The heartbreaking sound of children crying frequently fills the Cholera Treatment Centre in Mingkamen Camp, South Sudan. But when the staff of Save the Children‘s Emergency Heath Unit saves a child’s life, those tears are replaced by a wave of joy, writes Save the Children’s Tim Muir.
“He’s waking up,” Rebekka, a Save the Children nurse, beams at me, as she removes her cap and fans herself with it.
We’re standing in Save the Children’s Cholera Treatment Centre, in the middle of a camp for displaced people in Mingkamen, South Sudan. Forty-five minutes earlier, a man, wide-eyed and frightened, had rushed into the tent with his son, Daniel*, who had started seizing in his arms.
Seeing such a frail little boy convulse like that is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever witnessed. I felt helpless, and could only imagine what his father was going through.
I watched as Rebekka, with support from a local nurse, James, quickly ascertained that three-year-old Daniel did not have symptoms of cholera, but could die if they didn’t act fast.
Daniel was given emergency drugs and after 45 minutes the seizures slowly wore off. An hour later he started to wake up.
“We suspected he had malaria or meningitis as he didn’t have a history correlating with cholera,” Rebekka later explains to me, “He started being unwell in the morning with a high temperature – he was very, very hot as well. We tried to get his temperature down and gave him a lot of emergency drugs to stabilise him.”
“We are a cholera treatment centre; we are not a functioning primary health care centre so we don’t have a lot of additional medicines. Luckily, we had some essential drugs and emergency drugs in our stock when Daniel came in,” Rebekka says.
The Cholera Treatment Centre is an orderly series of large tents in the middle of Mingkaman Camp, which is currently home to about 50,000 people. Many families in the camps fled from the nearby town of Bor when fighting broke out in 2013. To this day, Bor remains a place of fluctuating conflict.
Working at Save the Children’s Cholera Treatment Centre is clearly challenging. “The environment in the tent is extremely hot,” Rebekka explains. “It’s a hot part of the world. It was around 11 o’clock at that point [when Daniel arrived]; we wanted to take the child’s temperature but the thermometer already showed 40.8 degrees Celsius!”.
But the Save the Children’s Emergency Health Unit is there to give healthcare – and hope – to the thousands of people living in the camps surrounding the centre.
Moments before Daniel and his father arrived at the treatment centre, I had been clearing images from my memory card and looking at photos of my own nephew, who is also three years old. Later the day, back at the Save the Children compound, I thought about how lucky he is – how lucky we all are – to have been born in a stable country where healthcare is widely available.
Save the Children supports children in South Sudan with healthcare, nutrition, water and sanitation. Our education and child protection programs give them a sense of normalcy and let them be children as the fighting around them continues. But the fighting restricts by where we can work, and the needs of children and families continue to grow.
The next day, I quickly popped in to the treatment centre to visit Daniel and his dad before my flight back to Juba. Daniel was sitting up as his father fed him porridge. “Please,” Daniel’s father said to me, “take our photo. I want to help so you can stop more fathers’ children from dying.”
This little boy does not know the conflict that surrounds him; his entire three years have been spent living in a camp. Yet like too many South Sudanese children, his life – his access to crucial healthcare, education and a safe and happy upbringing – is shaped by an unspeakable brutality that has nothing to do with him.
If Save the Children hadn’t been on the ground responding to the cholera outbreak, it’s unlikely Daniel would be alive today. And if nothing is done to bring peace to South Sudan right now, thousands more children will be in danger.
Written by Tim Muir.
Tim is the Information and Communications Coordinator in Save the Children Australia’s Humanitarian Surge Team. He recently deployed to South Sudan as part of our ongoing emergency response.