Ministry Takes on Sudan's Health Woes as Millions Vote

If Southern Sudan were to form its own country as a result of the ongoing referendum, it would only be the start of a long journey to overcoming the poverty and underdevelopment it has suffered since Sudan gained independence from Britain and Egypt more than 50 years ago.

But in the midst of a rural community where villagers are mostly living in mud huts, Akot Medical Mission center, founded by evangelical Christian organization Mustard Seed International, has been operating for over four years.

Since the facility opened its doors to patients on October 1, 2006, the impact on the community where the sick would have had to walk two to three days to see a doctor in the past, has been significant.

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"Prior to the Akot medical mission being there, it was nothing to lose several babies a week, stillborn, or they died right after birth," Bill Dean, president of MSI, told The Christian Post. "Once the Akot medical mission opened, it was four months before they lost the first baby."

South Sudan, one of the world's poorest regions, has the highest prenatal and under five mortality rates in the world, where one in five children do not live to see their 5th birthday.

The population also suffers from high levels of malaria and pneumonia, as well as a high rate of neonatal tetanus, a fatal muscular disease preventable with a vaccination.

"The last time I was there they brought in a baby that was four years old and the baby had tetanus," Dean recalled.

"More than likely that cord was cut with something that wasn't clean so the baby gets [the disease] and that's not something you can treat once they get it."

Part of the effort by volunteers on the ground is to change the way they "think about medicine."

"We are trying to change the culture and the way they think about medicine to get them to come and deliver their babies in a clean environment," he said.

Administration of medical care to the local Sudanese is just the starting point of mission in Southern Sudan, with evangelism being MSI's top priority. However, drastic developments will need to happen first.

"We're dealing with a population that is 90 percent illiterate so it's going to take a long time to do more than just relay the Gospel by telling Bible stories," Dean explained.

"The educational level is going to have to come up but we're in there for the long haul."

Civil war plagued Sudan for over two decades, resulting in millions of deaths and a nation that lacks any real ruling system or stable infrastructure.

A weeklong vote for independence that began Sunday is part of a 2005 peace deal that ended the war between the largely Muslim north and mainly Christian south.

Southern Sudanese are widely expected to vote for independence.

"Our hope is that there will not be anymore fighting and that things could stabilize, and the South would be able to from a government that is effective and not corrupted and be able to generate revenue for things that need to be done like infrastructure, meaning roads, medicine, education and also other things that are so critical to society."

MSI was founded after World War II and has ministries throughout Taiwan, southeast Asia, India, Africa and Eastern Europe. The organization operates solely on individual and church donations with all its staff being unpaid volunteers.

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