South Sudan (MNN) — The Government of South Sudan is under a national health emergency over a polio outbreak. The United Nations Security Council told the Sudanese Government to carry out a vaccination campaign immediately to stop the spread of the disease.
The discussion of vaccinations has opened to door for more work to be developed in other health concern areas-specifically, malaria.
Here are the success stories: nine years after continuous malaria eradication efforts were launched, infection rates dropped to 1.2 million compared to 7 million in 2004, featuring a 60% decrease percentage.
According to official reports of the World Health Organization, despite the presence of neighboring countries with high infection rates such as Ethiopia and Congo, Sudan is making headway.
The Mission Society’s Vice President for mission ministries, Jim Ramsay recently returned from South Sudan. He says first of all, “The sad thing about malaria, is that it’s so preventable. Even when somebody gets malaria, if they’re treated quickly, then it’s a treatable illness. What happens so often is people don’t get the treatment; especially children-it’s deadly to children if they don’t get treatment very soon after the symptoms present themselves.”
He notes that it’s a major effort. “Just telling somebody ‘we have vaccinations to prevent polio’ does not necessarily bring them in throngs to get vaccinated. There’s a lot of teaching that needs to be done about causes of disease and prevention.”
Reducing the infection rates further means creating vaccination access, addressing cultural issues, understanding the disease and coordinating prevention responses. For The Mission Society team, it has meant a partnership with The United Methodist Church in Yei, which has one of the poorest health care situations in the world. South Sudan is one of the least developed African nations. Electricity and running water are scarce, and most people survive by subsistence farming.
Together, they’re participating in the national ‘Imagine No Malaria’ campaign. “They did grant the work in Yei with a sizable amount of money to try to help begin a campaign of training, and access to mosquito nets and other basic needs to try to help reduce the amount of malaria that is happening there.”
However, there were obstacles to overcome, explains Ramsay. “In many parts of South Sudan, people assume the cause of malaria is that someone cursed them, or cursed their child, or they’re living under the curse of an ancestor.” In response, the team is developing a curriculum to educate people about the disease, causes, and preventions, “because just handing out mosquito nets, just handing out medicines, just saying ‘if you see these symptoms you have to come’ isn’t sufficient, but a lot of it is training on the cause of malaria.”
In equipping the local church to respond to a critical need in their community, “They will train trainers, often lay people in the church, so the church then becomes a gathering place, which builds its own credibility in the community as a place of healing and wholeness that then is a very natural way to be engaged with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In following this approach, local believers create a touch point for the Gospel. “These
relationships you are building with people become natural bridges and then just the fact that there’s a God of the universe that loves us, that wants us to be whole, He desires us to be reconciled with himself, to be reconciled with one another, which, certainly in a place like South Sudan there’s a need for reconciliation, and reconciled to our creation.” And the circle comes around again, says Ramsay. “Being reconciled to our Creation [means] understanding things that cause disease and understanding there are ways that God provided for us to protect ourselves.”