Every year on 8 March, people across the world observe International Women’s Day. It’s a day to celebrate and recognise the remarkable achievements of women – be they political, social or economic – to commemorate the great progress we have made and continue to make, and pledge action to advance gender equality. To mark International Women’s Day this year, and for the rest of the month of March, Crown Agents wants to shine a light and recognise the contributions of the female frontline health workers of the Health Pooled Fund (HPF), the largest health care programme in South Sudan, and how they play a leading part in achieving their country’s health targets.
HPF is changing lives for the better. It is saving lives. The five-year £450 million programme provides high-quality healthcare to over 10 million people in eight out of ten states in South Sudan, with a focus on reducing maternal and child mortality. Crown Agents leads a consortium of the multi-donor programme led by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), with contributions from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); the Canadian Government; the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA); Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and the European Union (EU).
Working in close collaboration with South Sudan’s Ministry of Health (at national, state and county levels), the programme guarantees improved health and well-being for the local population through the implementation of quality health services, prevention and treatment of common conditions, timely availability of essential drugs and medical equipment and health system stability.
Over one year (Oct 2021 – Sep 2022), the programme reported:
- 98,111 deliveries performed with skilled attendance
- 296,969 children vaccinated with 3 doses of pentavalent vaccine
- 6,019,252 out-patient visits
- 76,014 new adopters of modern family planning methods
- 1,660,204 children under 5 treated for diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia in the community
- 3,777,362 children assessed for malnutrition
In addition to this, Crown Agents is also leading the rollout of the Boma Health Initiative, South Sudan’s community health programme, where Boma health workers across all counties are trained in Integrated Community Case Management (ICCM) and safe motherhood.
From nurses, midwives and health workers to the clinical support teams, women have been instrumental in providing primary healthcare and are often the first and sometimes the only health professional that some people see. We spoke to some of the remarkable women supporting the HPF programme, who are going to extraordinary lengths to help others in their communities.
Yunis Karmelio, Lab Technician
“I felt like there was a gap in female representation in the laboratory and investigating field, not only in Juba but all over the country. That’s why I joined the college to further my studies and here I am today.”
“I felt like there was a gap in female representation in the laboratory and investigating field, not only in Juba but all over the country. That’s why I joined the college to further my studies and here I am today.” As the only female laboratory technician who has been serving the community of Terekeka County since 2019, Yunis is the backbone of the Terekeka Primary Healthcare Centre. She started her career in nursing determined to save the lives of vulnerable people who could not support themselves.
She now wants to encourage more women and girls to pursue careers in the field of science to guarantee continuity.
“Women and girls should go to school and prove themselves in the science field to support the community the way I am. [At the moment, I am the only one] handling the whole department, who is going to take over [from] me?” she added.
The 55-year-old lab technician wants to encourage young women and girls to not only focus on the arts but also on science, to save people’s life, stressing the importance of resilience for women to succeed in their careers and raise successful families.
“It’s hard to manage hospital work and home, given the fact that I am a widow and a mother. But I have managed to overcome this by training my children to be independent and all my children are successful now,” Yunis said.
Despite challenges faced in the male-dominated field Yunis has managed to flourish in her role and has proven herself with competency in what she does.
Peninnah Yepeta Tabia, Midwife
“The love I have to serve my community, especially vulnerable women and girls, makes it worthwhile remaining in the profession.”
Peninnah Yepeta Tabia, an enrolled midwife, has served her community over the last 10 years at Yambio Primary Healthcare Centre where she provides services such as quality antenatal and postnatal care to women. With support from HPF, Peninnah has, over the years, undergone several training courses such as clinical management of rape, basic emergency obstetrics, newborn care, and family planning.
“I delivered hundreds of children and managed obstetricians’ labour with no registered deaths over the years,” said Peninnah. Furthermore, she also offers other health services alongside her roles such as voluntary counselling, health education on women’s health, good parenting practices, and family planning methods.
When asked what inspired her to join her current profession, she says it’s “the love I have to serve my community, especially vulnerable women and girls, makes it worthwhile remaining in the profession.”
Evaline Erineo, Pharmacist
“Women have what it takes to succeed in such a demanding field of health care, no matter the background. You can come from a beer-brewing background and still become successful. All this requires commitment when given the opportunity.
Evaline’s journey as a pharmacist started over 15 years ago in the County Health Department. With no prior experience and knowledge of pharmaceutical management, she has progressed in her career and was promoted from a traditional birth attendant to County Pharmacist. She has withstood time and has successfully managed the demands of her role.
“I am inspired because my work is unique, it offers an opportunity to work anywhere, in hospitals, humanitarian organisations, and the private sector,” Evaline says.
“Women have what it takes to succeed in such a demanding field of healthcare, no matter the background. You can come from a beer-brewing background and still become successful. All this requires commitment when given the opportunity. Through the HPF training and mentorship, I am now in a better position for a greater role and to serve my community.”
Natalia Singba Daniel, Clinician
“I am happy that in Western Equatoria I am the only female Primary Health Care Officer supporting Yambio County. What a man does, a woman does it better!”
Natalia, a clinical officer at the County Health Department of Yambia, says working under the HPF project in South Sudan has been very intriguing. “My role as a Primary Health Care Officer (PHCO) is to provide mentorship to health workers and capacity building to the county primary healthcare officer seconded by the State Ministry of Health.”
As a female staff, “I did experience gender barriers at my workplace because of my position as a PHCO. Some people perceive the work is done best by a man because most of the staff I supervise and mentor at the health facilities are male”.
Reflecting on the struggles of women in healthcare, she says, “Today, young girls are told they can be anything they want when they grow up. Yet the unique challenges that women face in the workplace, whether in the boardroom or the barnyard. Are not being discussed.”
On how she pursues her passion and excels at work, Natalia said, “I set short goals and regard them as base camps. So, when I attempt to scale a peak, it is not just Everest. In my mind, I have already scaled the peak several times. It’s all in the mind. If you want to do something, it will automatically become a priority for you.” With this mindset, staff at the centre have adopted being supervised by female staff and are appreciative of the skills they gain from me, Natalia added.
“What inspires me is the opportunity offered to women to work under the HPF project in South Sudan regardless of the type of work. I am happy that in Western Equatoria I am the only female PHCO supporting Yambio County. What a man does, a woman does it better!”
Sheila Nauko, Nurse
“I am treated with due respect because of the career path I have taken as there are very few women who are in the health sector.”
Sheila Nauko, a registered nurse at Yambio Primary Health Care Centre, says she feels proud after helping patients and saving the lives of vulnerable people. “Patients come to the facility uncomfortable, feeling their worst but my work is to care for them and make them feel safe and comfortable again,” Sheila said.
The four years she spent at Maridi Health Science Institute served as an essential foundation for her personal and work-related goals, but it is the training and mentorship from HPF that ignited her passion for her nursing career. “It rooted my life with purpose and direction,” she said, adding that she was now well-equipped with the tools to critically think and navigate life with certainty. The nursing program was challenging but, she welcomed that challenge because she knew the purpose it served. Besides she wanted to learn how to be a leader and strive to grow into roles that would let her learn how to lead others.
“As a Nurse within my community, I receive appreciation because of the nature of the work I am doing. I am treated with due respect because of the career path I have taken as there are very few women who are in the health sector. I also acquired training conducted by World Vision with support from HPF and it reinforced my skills and I do my work better,” Sheila said.
“Nursing is very demanding physically and mentally. Yet the perception in my community is that nursing is meant for women hence creating an inferiority complex. As a woman, it’s very challenging to balance between reproductive and productive work,” Sheila said, adding that “it is deeply disturbing and unfair that professional women in healthcare have to confront these societal value glitches when progressing in their careers.”
Jackline James Yatta, Nurse
“When women and girls, everywhere, begin to see themselves as more capable, this can create change all around. The kind of change that is for the better.”
Jackline works as a nurse at Munuki Primary Healthcare Centre – a health facility supported by HPF – where she supports patients in the inpatient ward department until they are stable or need a referral for further treatment.
“I have experienced gender barriers. Being a woman, the norm is that I should be at home doing domestic work and taking care of the family. But due to the economic crisis and because I am the breadwinner, my husband allowed me to continue with my work and my career. I now finished my pharmaceutical training at Jubek Training Institute and am currently waiting to receive my Diploma.
Inspired by successful women who reach their full potential, Jackline says, “Every woman and girl has the potential to make this world a better place, and that potential lies in the act of thinking higher thoughts, commitment, and determination. When women and girls, everywhere, begin to see themselves as more capable, this can create change all around. The kind of change that is for the better.”
For more information on the Health Pooled Fund, please visit the Programme’s website: https://hpfsouthsudan.org/