More than 60 people graduated in Juba this week with diplomas in midwifery and nursing. Their goal? To reduce South Sudan's high rate of maternal mortality.
Eight men were among the 66 graduates of the Kajo Keji Health Science Institute — an unusual occurrence in South Sudan, where midwifery is associated almost exclusively with women.
Samuel Ladu Morish, 26, says he felt he could no longer sit by and watch young women die because of childbirth.
"A lot of mothers are dying so [for] me particularly it pains me. That is why I felt I have to do that course, to try my level best to stop maternal mortality rate in South Sudan," Morish told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.
Twenty-one-year-old Leju Henry, another male graduate, said he's been asked many times why he decided to pursue a course in midwifery. Like Morish, Henry said he wants to help South Sudanese women, especially those who suffer complications in child labor.
"Most people think midwifery is a job for females only, but that is not the truth. … the definition of midwifery [is] that a midwife simply means someone who assists in child above all, but not necessarily means a fellow woman," Henry said.
According to figures published by the World Health Organization in 2017, South Sudan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world — 789 women per 100,000 live births.
The rate has actually fallen in recent years, a trend that Makur Koriom, the undersecretary of South Sudan's Ministry of Health, attributes to increased training of midwives and nurses.
He says South Sudan has added more than 800 midwives and nurses since 2010.
"We believe that's important, because to address the current health challenges, investing in human resource is very important. But, of course, investment at [the] secondary level without concurrent development at the community level also will not yield [good results], because most of the issues happen at the community level," Koriom told VOA.