By nine o’clock every morning, the Outpatient Department of Juba’s Military Hospital is teeming with patients. The largest health facility in the Southern Sudanese capital, the 110-bed hospital serves soldiers and their families, but is also open to civilians.
Just recovering from a 21-year-old civil war, more than half of the country’s population was or still is in the military. Every day, over 100 patients are seen at the hospital’s outpatient department, most of them children.
On a hot November morning, Clinical Officer Peter Kuol is on duty in one of the two consultation rooms, each of which is manned by two medics. Many of the men and women in the waiting room are in military uniform, most of them accompanied by children. A mother brings in a five-year-old boy with a swollen face. He has a fever and no appetite, she says. After examining the child and ascertaining his vaccination history, Kuol prescribes a painkiller and plenty of rest. He suspects mumps and asks them to return if the symptoms have not gone after three days.
The next patient is a nine-year-old boy who has a headache, cough and nausea. He has been ill for three days, but his mother was too busy to bring him to hospital earlier. Kuol sends him to the laboratory to be tested for malaria and typhoid.
“Both diseases could easily kill a child. Seventy per cent of the patients we see are children. You see, their immunity is not as strong as that of adults; they are also care-free and prone to illness and injury – dirt easily finds its way into their mouths, and they get hurt as they play. Children are the future of this country so we have to do our best to care for them.”
A member of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, Sgt Kuol is a graduate of the National Health Training Institute in Maridi, where AMREF has been training clinical officers since 1998. The Institute’s comprehensive three-year course prepares students to manage patients and provide services at different levels of the health delivery system. Courses range from anatomy, paediatrics and pathology to obstetrics, gynaecology and psychology. The students also learn public health care, nursing care and surgical procedures.