In war-torn Sudan, ongoing civil war is creating a negative domino effect in reproductive health care. As reported by the Human Rights Watch, while government and rebel forces clash, Sudanese women lose access to contraceptives and other family planning aids. Healthcare and hospital care, in general, are not easily accessible. Neither side of the conflict is allowing substantial foreign aid into the country and the price is being paid for in blood by the Sudanese women and children.
In the words of Sudanese villager Sebila, “Every year, I give birth…It would be better if I could space it [out].” Human Rights Watch reports that women, such as Hassina Soulyman, who is only 14-years-old, are placed in these potentially lethal, yet avoidable situations. Soulyman had been in labour for two days at home, drifting in and out of consciousness, before her family could get her to the hospital. She gave birth to a stillborn. The doctor informed Soulyman that vaginal birth would not be feasible for her as her cervix was too small. Unable to access contraceptives, Soulyman would later give birth two more times; the second child died after only six months and the third, though it survived, had its head trapped in Soulyman’s womb until she could get to the hospital.
Such horror stories are made worse by the fact that they are, by-and-large, avoidable. Even access to basic contraceptives, such as condoms, would help prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as allow women to heal in-between them. Both government and rebel forces are failing the very people they claim to be fighting for. The cost for the Sudanese people, however, cannot be ignored. Though it would be ideal for both sides to come to a peaceful, lasting agreement, war can continue even if aid is made more easily available to the women who so desperately need it.
Sudan has been in an almost constant state of conflict since the early 1960s. Ostensibly, the fighting has been between the northern and southern portions of the country, with the South led by the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement which aims for regional independence. The most recent conflict, known as the Second Civil War, ran from 1983 to 2005, but the peace agreement signed by the two sides has not brought peace to the country, states the BBC. External intervention has been greatly hindered by the fact that neither the government nor the rebel forces are willing to allow foreign aid to enter.
Conflict is by its very nature disruptive, but it does more than “just” kill people and destroy homes; it also disrupts the infrastructure of everyday life. In the case of Sudan, the unfolding reproductive healthcare problem has all the signs of becoming a nation-wide crisis. The lack of contraceptives prevents family planning and causes frequent births. This, in turn, causes the population to grow and increases the existing food burden within the country. The lack of accessible healthcare for pregnant women and newborns also means that mothers and babies are more likely to die during or just after childbirth. This situation can be remedied. Sudanese women need contraceptives – for the benefit of the country as well as themselves.