Top officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are in southern Sudan this week to help start rebuilding the country's shattered health care system after more than two decades of civil war.
The U.S. aid agency pledged more than $30 million during the next five years to build health clinics, train medical workers and provide drugs to combat a range of diseases, including malaria and tuberculosis. These diseases have flourished during Sudan's 21 years of brutal conflict.
Functioning hospitals and health centers are rare in southern Sudan, where government soldiers and rebel troops looted and destroyed many such facilities.
USAID's Dr. Anne Peterson, who is visiting southern Sudan this week, said that most people in the region live without the most basic health care services.
Dr. Peterson is in Sudan to see first-hand the status of the region's health care system. She spoke by satellite phone from the southern Sudanese town of Kauda.
?I know that there are not enough services for the people to get all the services they need to have right now in areas that are secure,? she said. ?There are places where we can't even get people in to find out how bad their health situation is. So we know that immunization coverage has gone down. We know that outbreaks are becoming more frequent. Malaria is becoming a bigger problem so that many of things we were most concerned about are getting worse over this period of time.?
The aid package is one of the first major steps in rebuilding the health infrastructure in that war-devastated region of the country and it comes as negotiators for the Khartoum government and rebels in southern Sudan close in on a peace deal to end Africa's longest-running conflict.
The peace talks in Naivasha, Kenya, have been stalled over disputes over a power-sharing deal and the distribution of the country's vast oil wealth.
Dr. Peterson said that peace would make providing medical services in southern Sudan easier, but that the program will move forward with or without a peace agreement.
?We are certainly extraordinarily hopeful that the peace accord will come; we will plan this project whether or not there is a peace accord, it will be easier to implement well and broadly if there is peace,? she added.
The peace talks are being overshadowed by the worsening humanitarian crisis in Sudan's western Darfur region, where aid agencies say more than one million people have been displaced by fighting between another Sudanese rebel group and Arab militias backed by government troops.
Still, delegates at the Naivasha peace talks say they are optimistic an agreement between the Sudanese government and southern rebels, known as the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement, will be clinched early next week.