China pledged $33 million Tuesday to help modernize Juba Teaching Hospital, which is the main medical center in South Sudan and one of very few hospitals in the young country.
The funds will be used to expand the maternity ward and emergency unit at the hospital, said South Sudan’s Minister of Health, Dr. Riek Gai Kok. The health minister spoke at a ceremony at the health ministry where officials from the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding.
The current maternity ward at Juba Teaching Hospital can only accommodate 27 patients. Gai said after the expansion it will be able to admit 100 patients. The emergency unit’s capacity will also be expanded, he said.
The Chinese funds will also be used to upgrade Kiir Mayardit Hospital in Rumbek. That hospital was constructed with aid and funds from the Chinese government and opened last year.
Juba Teaching Hospital was built in the 1920s by the British as a military barracks. It was later converted into a military hospital for British soldiers. Today, it is the main national hospital providing services to millions of people from all 10 South Sudanese states. But its services are inadequate, the walls and bedding are threadbare, and patients often complain about poor hospital service delivery.
Largest pledge for health care
Gai said the Chinese pledge of funding is the largest that South Sudan has ever had for a health care project. He said the Chinese-funded modernization project "...is going to change the landscape of the health sector" in South Sudan.
Gai told the Chinese embassy’s economic and commercial counselor, Zhang Yi, that China’s pledge to help South Sudan gives South Sudanese a reason to be hopeful in these times of trouble. "This is going to raise hope for our people that not everything is worse in South Sudan, but there is also some shining aspect of life in South Sudan,” Gai said.
Zhang lamented the fact that the fighting that broke out last year in South Sudan has destroyed key infrastructure, including health facilities, around the country.
He said South Sudan's future is at stake if the fighting continues, and called on the government to step up efforts to restore peace. “Peace and development are twins," Zhang said. "If there is no peace, you can hardly start development. But if there is no development, peace cannot (be) sustained."
Zhang said the funds to improve Juba Teaching Hospital will boost Chinese bilateral cooperation with South Sudan. China has had a presence in South Sudan for several decades, including during the long civil war that eventually led to South Sudan’s independence in 2011. Beijing already invests in health, education and infrastructure in South Sudan, and China is South Sudan’s main partner in the country’s key revenue generator, the oil industry.
Gai said that, even with the Chinese injection of funds, South Sudan has a lot of work to do to improve health care service delivery to its people. South Sudan has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world and more needs to be done to train medical personnel and improve infrastructure, the health minister said.