Dear friends of the Sudan Tuberculosis Project,
It always seems appropriate that Thanksgiving launches the holiday season. A time of feasting and celebration, looking back on unexpected blessings of the year.
(e-mail from Dr. Jill Seaman— December 1, 2005 )
The other day one of our TBA's (traditional birth attendants) brought me a baby. Do you remember my story of the lady who arrived at 5 AM after walking two hours, in labor, with the umbilical cord hanging out? I remember how shocked I was to find that the cord was still pulsating. I washed off the mud, replaced the cord into the uterus and now the kid is a chubby 10 month old! And the mother is so happy! Nice to see, no?
2005 began with stupendous news of PEACE! Peace accords were signed on January 9, and the Sudanese rejoiced. Those who had planned their lives around the uncertainties of war for decades were able to re-design a future with much broader horizons. The Sudan TB Project moved from Keew, a very isolated spot which avoided attention from the military, to Old Fangak, right on the Nile.
Old Fangak boasts real buildings, crumbling though they may be, and the remnants of a hospital. Together with other non-governmental organizations, TB Project staff is helping to construct facilities and train personnel for an ongoing system of health care in South Sudan .
Six years ago, Dr. Jill Seaman, and NP Sjoukje De Wit established the Sudan TB Project in answer to a desperate situation. The TB Project, of course, could not ignore the other diseases—malaria, pneumonia, kala azar, malnutrition—which would kill our patients even as their TB was cured. Often Jill is the only doctor within a week's walk. What can you do, when all those human dilemmas sit on your doorstep?
From the beginning, training Sudanese health workers has taken high priority. “Nurses” with a few years of elementary education acquire new skills in diagnosis and treatment. Since all formal medical courses are taught in English, the whole staff studies English with great vigour over the morning cup of tea.
As consultants to Doctors without Borders and the World Health Organization, Sjouke and Jill have offered courses on TB and kala azar throughout South Sudan . The WHO recently recognized their work by adopting their kala azar training manual for use by health workers of WHO-associated agencies.
Peter Sunduk, our head nurse for several years, began his four year training program as a medical officer in 2004. While his services have been sorely missed, we see this as an investment. He will return to Old Fangak after two more years, prepared to run the hospital. Peter's education costs the TB Project $2500 annually. What a bargain!
As the “peace dividend” allows our work to take place more openly, we strive to shift from emergency intervention to a real system that leads to better health.
So how do we progress from tuberculosis to maternity care?
Losing a mother to tuberculosis can signify the beginning of the end for her family, Likewise, maternal deaths in pregnancy can turn joyful anticipation to disaster.
In Sudan , one of every nine women dies from complications of pregnancy. Essentially all of them are attended by relatives and neighbours with no formal midwifery training. Those who give birth at night have only firelight to see by. Most lie or squat on a dirt floor. The lucky (and strong!) ones may walk two hours, pausing for contractions, to have Jill help their babies into the world.
(e-mail from Jill Seaman, December 7, 2005 )
I am late because – well, we got home from outreach last night. At 5 AM there was a sick TB kid- - and then at 6 there was a woman whose babe would "not come out" because it was "walking too much"- - and I got to deliver a set of quite large twins! The first was breech, the second vertex. Both are now wrapped up near the fire, quite contented. Mother is a bit shocked and asked if I would take them to America to feed them.
How much difference could we make with skilled intervention at the right moment?
Where would we be without a dream?
The dream that has evolved is a maternity room added on to the tiny hospital, complete with facilities for Cesaerean section, and a solar-powered medication refrigerator. A sleeping room and small library for the nurses would mean 24 hour on-site coverage. Aside from better care for the patients, just imagine how much more functional Jill would be if she wasn't woken up every night!
Father Antonio, a well-loved Italian priest of the Camboni order, has worked in South Sudan for decades. He sees improved medical care as an essential step toward stability. He has urged Jill to start a maternity center, and now has offered $100,000 to help refurbish the hospital. His obstetrician friend has volunteered to work there.
Can we come up with a matching $100,000? That is almost the size of our annual budget! It is also the price tag on just ONE American preemie who requires hospitalization for a month or two.
Other hearts in other lands keep beating, with hopes and dreams as true and high as ours.
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On the home front, it is time to thank Joan Condon and her organization, Capacitar, for six years of scrupulous bookkeeping. That allows us to send over 95% of your contributions to Sudan . This project has always been graced by skilled volunteers who offer their services when the needs seem overwhelming. Joan is one such treasure.
We are most grateful to William and Marina Shaw, the directors of Crosscurrents International Institute, for their offer to take over this administrative position. Crosscurrents, a non-profit organization based in Ohio , has worked since 1985 to promote an international climate for peace and human development. Check its website www.crosscurrentsinstitute.org. Donations are still fully tax deductible.
And to YOU: thanks for your letters and moral support, your friendship, your financial contributions, and your sharing of a common dream. Please know that any gift you make to this work will be magnified many times over by the generous hands and hearts that deliver it in Sudan .
With all good wishes,
Gretchen Stone Jill Seaman Sjoukje De Wit
Address for Correspondence
Gretchen Neumann Stone
Address for Contributions
Crosscurrents International Institute