World News

Born Too Soon in a Country at War. Their Only Hope? This Clinic.

Posted August 28, 2018 11:45 a.m. EDT

A baby girl has stopped breathing. She was born prematurely and is only 3 weeks old.

Her mother, Restina Boniface, took her to the only public neonatal clinic in South Sudan. The country is one of the toughest places in the world for newborns with health problems to survive.

Ten feet away sits a donated respiratory machine that could save the baby. But lacking a critical part, it goes unused.

The doctor tries to resuscitate the baby for several minutes. Finally, she begins breathing on her own.

One in 10 babies brought to this clinic will die, most from treatable conditions. But many mothers have nowhere else to go.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. A brutal civil war has drained the economy. As hospitals closed, doctors were forced to flee.

Inside the clinic, many babies remain nameless. Their mothers know they may not make it.

“Our mothers here, they come for help," said Rose Tongan, a pediatrician. "And you pity them. You can’t do anything.”

Electricity cuts out for days at a time.

There is no formula for the premature babies, no lab for blood tests, no facility for X-rays.

There are no beds for breastfeeding mothers. They must sleep outside, where they are at risk of infection and vulnerable to assault.

“I feel like: What can I do?” Tongan said.

Hellen Sitima’s 3-day-old daughter is sick. “When we get home, then that’s the time to name the baby,” she says.

Tongan has no access to lab tests, but she determines that Sitima’s baby has a respiratory infection.

The infection clears, and Sitima takes her daughter home. She names her Gift.

Boniface’s baby, who was resuscitated earlier, died in the clinic. She was never named.