In what could be a new blow to the country’s health sector, the United Kingdom (UK) has suspended funding to 220 medical institutes, including the Health Pooled Fund, the largest donor-financing mechanism for healthcare in South Sudan.
The cutbacks come merely months after the UK revealed a “fresh strategy to ending preventable deaths of children, babies and mothers by 2030,” based on support for “robust health systems,” according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
However, the humanitarian organisation laments the fact that South Sudan still has one of the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality.
The aid cut, which takes effect in July, is the second round of funding cuts implemented by the UK govt in two years.
MSF is urging the British government and other donors to restore funding to South Sudan as soon as possible in order to avert a potential health disaster.
According to MSF, the funds “provide access to basic primary and secondary healthcare, as well as payments for local healthcare workers, drugs and medical supplies, and technical assistance.”
According to the group, the Health Pooled Fund’s budget has been cut by 24 percent for the fiscal year ending April 1, 2022, due to drastic cutbacks to the UK’s Official Development Assistance.
According to the organisation, this has caused the immediate suspended sentence of funding to 220 of the 797 public health facilities that it previously supported across eight of the country’s ten states. Due to additional budget cuts, 9 medical centers will close at the end of July.
The medical humanitarian organisation is concerned about the timing and magnitude of aid cutbacks to the healthcare system, and warns of the potential impact on people’s access to medical care, especially the vulnerable.
“After years of protracted conflict and recurring humanitarian crises, South Sudan’s health system was already on life support; and these cuts will further cripple a chronically underfunded public health system struggling to meet the needs of the population,” says Vickie Hawkins, executive director of MSF UK.
Two-thirds of South Sudan’s 2,300 healthcare facilities have already been closed, as well as less than half of its population (44%) lives within 5 kilometers of a functioning health care facility.
With displacement, floods, vilonce, and food insecurity, remaining major issues in the region, these cutbacks come at an inconvenient time.
“It’s difficult to overstate how concerned we are about the continuity of health services and people’s access to them,” Hawkins said.
“These aren’t just numbers; these cuts will mean the difference between life and death for South Sudanese women, men, and children.”
Despite a limited and overstretched budget, MSF has pledged to continue providing humanitarian and medical assistance through its programmes throughout South Sudan.
In May 2021, the UK cut funding to South Sudan’s health programmes by 30%, infuriating senior officials, with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management calling the decision “unfriendly and inhuman.”