Abalo Joska, 23, has lost count of the number of babies she has helped bear in the one year and two months she has been working as a midwife at South Sudan’s Torit County hospital. “I feel happy every time I help a woman bring new life into this world,” says Joska. “I get even happier when the whole process goes well and both the mother and her baby are healthy.”
Abalo wakes up every morning at six to prepare for her day. It takes her an hour and a half by foot to get to her work place, where she stays until two in the afternoon. Due to a lack of midwives, Abalo works seven days per week and often for longer than she should.
“My administrator may ask me to stay for an emergency, before the next shift comes,” says Joska who is paid SSP 2,000 (USD 86 per month). She supplements her income with a bit of farming around her house, whenever she gets the chance. She says her salary is too small to take care of her needs and the other people she looks after.
Adding to her struggles, July’s latest violent escalation in South Sudan, between the warring parties of the ruling SPLA and SPLA-IO outside the presidential compound in Juba, has sent the country into chaos. The violence erupted one day before the celebrations to mark South Sudan’s fifth anniversary of independence. Still, Joska is not deterred.
Her dream was originally to become a nurse, but when she realised the scale of the maternity mortality rate, she quickly changed her mind. She thought she would be more fulfilled if she helped reverse the negative trend. “Despite my small salary, I do not regret taking on this career.”
I feel so good when the women I helped recognise me.
Torit County hospital is the biggest government funded hospital in Eastern Equatoria State, but the equipment is not adequate to take care of over 100 cases Joska’s department receives every month. “Sometimes we receive five expecting women, and usually we are pushed into a state of improvisation. For example, sometimes we are forced to use the same equipment on more than one woman, without sterilising it first,” she says. “We are overwhelmed by the numbers of expecting mothers, yet we have incomplete delivery sets.” She is aware of the danger this can pose to the life of both a mother and her baby. “When worst comes to worst, we are left with no choice.”
Out of over 100 expecting mothers Joska and her colleagues treat every month, slightly 10 per cent are under age girls. Cases involving young age girls need intensive care, she says. Roughly over a half of them are registered for caesarean births.
“I feel so good when the women I helped recognise me! Usually they stop to greet me. It gives me joy when I meet them. They tell me about their children, and I feel proud deep inside of me,” she says.