How to keep a hospital operation running in the remote Nuba Mountains

Our project member, Andreas Wienhold, describes his work as a craftsman in the Cap Anamur Hospital in the Nuba Mountains, where he has been for the last six months. In mid-October, he returns to Sudan after home leave to resume his work there for several more months.

“How do you keep a hospital operation running when there is no local industry and no infrastructure? The active war in Sudan is over, the hoped-for peace talks are stalling and there is still no official corridor for humanitarian aid.

Twice a year, we fill up our warehouses with building materials, medicines, and food

Two shipping containers fully loaded with essential contents for construction and maintenance work, medical equipment, hospital equipment, and food travel from Nairobi via Uganda through the whole of South Sudan, to where the official transport route ends in the Yida refugee camp. Then comes the unloading, sorting, and reloading onto the local trucks that then take the arduous journey to Lwere in Sudan.

From time to time, critical medicines and supplies have to be flown in to maintain the supply, which stretches the budget to breaking point.

To our disadvantage, the rainy season is setting in more and more and the road conditions are getting worse by the day, which not only puts extreme strain on the vehicles and makes some roadside repairs unavoidable but also makes demands on the energy and readiness of the entire crew. The vehicles plough through mud, sludge, and steadily rising rivers. It takes almost three weeks of travelling back and forth between Yida and Lwere until the most important relief supplies are stowed in the camp. Everybody pitches in because they all know that no other aid is available to supply the hospital for the next six months.

The planning, organization and realization of this mammoth task, which must be carried out every six months to bring urgently needed relief supplies to the remote mountain region, is one of the main financial factors and necessary for the project’s survival.

Life in the Nuba Mountains

The other side of this coin is that you realize just how merciless life is in the middle of the outback. The next waterhole is hundreds of metres away and many people will walk this journey with a 20-litre canister on their head several times a day just to supply their family with water. People grow basic foodstuffs, and the fields are tended daily – and protected from the goats, who of course prefer the taste of the little that is cultivated to the dry blades of grass.

In the event of a medical emergency, it takes hours, even days, to reach a health post or even the hospital, which means that even the mildest infectious disease can lead to serious consequences or even death in the middle of the street. It is not uncommon for the sick, injured or even women just about to give birth to be loaded onto a donkey to be promptly taken to hospital.

The people’s hospitality, their joie de vivre and unconditional helpfulness mean I find accepting and understanding their sad, sometimes even brutal and violent, fate and situations hard to bear.

It’s therefore all the more important to be a strong team that is there for each other and supports each other. We talk about situations and experiences and share and pick up tasks to provide relief for others. Because a nurse can suddenly be needed to support the emergency power generators, or as a craftsman, you can find yourself needing medical treatment. Every now and then, we get to enjoy the peace and quiet and the sunset on our so-called “home mountain” for a couple of hours after work.

Life here is decelerated, attuned to what matters most. No water out of the wall, the electricity supply is severely limited and a supermarket with fully stocked shelves is unthinkable. No radio, no cable television constantly trying to explain to you how the world should be. No traffic noise, no light pollution… I have probably never seen a clearer starry sky.

You have to take the time out needed and leave this region of the world almost every half year, even if it’s hard to leave your tasks behind for a short time. But before you can enjoy this time out in your home country, the departure date and the rainy season agree to coincide perfectly, and the return trip becomes a two-day mud fight until we arrive at the refugee camp smeared with dirt. We have one day left to make our clothes and ourselves look a little more fit for civilization before the staggered flights home begin.”