Friday, January 21, 2011

Help for their homeland

GLOBAL HELP: Sudanese volunteers Maduk Aleer, left, and John Akech Dau help prepare medical supplies that will be sent to Southern Sudan.

As the African nation of Sudan prepared for a vote on a critical referendum to determine the country’s future, members of the Sudanese population in Boston gathered at the MGH in a Bulfinch Building conference room to organize medical aid supply shipments aimed at improving infant and maternal health in Southern Sudan. The shipments, organized by the Department of Emergency Medicine’s Division of Global Health and Human Rights, will be used by locally trained Sudanese health workers to improve outcomes for mothers and newborns before, during and after delivery.

“We were grateful for their assistance,” says Thomas Burke, MD, chief of the division. “With their help, we were able to quickly organize and ship life-saving medical equipment to health care workers in the field.”  

The supplies, which filled some 150 backpacks, will be delivered to front-line workers who received medical training as part of the division’s Maternal, Newborn and Child Survival Initiative, which aims to lower maternal and infant mortality rates in Southern Sudan. According to the World Health Organization and United Nations Population Fund, one in six women in Southern Sudan will die as a result of childbirth, and one in four children will not live to see age 5.

“This initiative is designed to provide local caregivers with the training and tools needed to save maternal and infant lives,” says Burke. “Something as simple as a spool of string and reusable metal scissors can affect survival by reducing umbilical cord infections.”

Along with educational materials designed for illiterate caregivers, the backpacks also include sterile gloves, blood pressure cuffs, thermometers, care checklists, breathing devices and suction bulbs. Simple modifications were made to the equipment for easy use by the local population. For example, thermometers and blood pressure cuffs were marked with red ink to indicate measurements outside normal parameters and identify a need for further action.

“After decades of horrific civil war, Southern Sudan is taking real steps toward self-determination,” says Burke. “A major factor in its stability will be the health of the people. By partnering with the Southern Sudan Ministry of Health, the Division of Global Health and Human Rights is helping to empower local health workers to protect their country’s most valuable asset: their children and the mothers who care for them.”

For more information on the Division of Global Health and Human Rights, visit

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