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On South Sudan's nation-building list: Curb horrendous maternal mortality rates

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Jerome Delay/AP

(Read caption) In this Jan. 13 photo, a South Sudanese woman walks alongside the football stadium in Juba, South Sudan.

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South Sudan faces a daunting to-do list as it prepares to become the world's newest nation in July after last month's historic vote to secede from its longtime enemy to the north. A government must be formed, roads must be built, schools must be started. And somewhere near the top of the list of demands from people in this long-neglected region is better health-care services.

“There are huge expectations for service delivery here,” says Susan Fine, who heads the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) programs in Southern Sudan. “People expect to see very rapid change.”

South Sudan has one of world's worst maternal mortality rates. The United Nations humanitarian office in South Sudan's capital, Juba, says that 1 in 7 women who become pregnant “will probably die from pregnancy-related causes.”

“This number could well be grossly underestimated,” says Prinitha Pillay, the medical director for a health clinic run by Doctors Without Borders in South Sudan's Warrap State.

“Addressing [the issue of maternal mortality in Southern Sudan] is a larger and more structural challenge that will need a different approach in order to be tackled,” says Dr. Pillay, noting that merely increasing the number of maternal wards and services for pregnant women, for example, will not prevent women from dying in childbirth in large numbers in South Sudan.

Optimism in the trenches

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