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Juba, South Sudan – The Government of Sweden has released 40 million Swedish Krona (approximately USD 4.8 million) in new funds to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, to support its sexual and reproductive health programme in South Sudan.

The new fund release is part of Sweden’s commitment to the UNFPA Country Programme which aims to achieve zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and zero gender-based violence (GBV) and harmful practices by 2030.

South Sudan has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world with 1,150 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to a 2017 maternal mortality estimates by the Maternal Mortality Estimation Inter-Agency Group (MMEIG). Modern family planning use in the country is one of the lowest worldwide at 3.2 per cent (FP2020 core indicator figures for 2020). GBV remains prevalent and child marriage is high with 4 out of 10 girls being married off between ages 15 and 19.

Sweden’s support to UNFPA began in 2012 with funding for reproductive health supplies. In 2015, Sweden funded the Strengthening Midwifery Services Project, which trains and deploys midwives throughout the country to address the severe lack of qualified health professionals in the country, with the ultimate goal of reducing maternal deaths.

UNFPA Representative Dr. Mary Otieno (2nd from left) and Swedish Embassy Head of Mission Mr. Urban Sjostrom (3rd from left) visit the operating theater inside a camp for internally displaced persons in Malakal. The facility now serves as a referral hospital for surgeries even for people living outside the IDP camp. (UNFPA South Sudan/Arlene Alano)

At its independence in 2011, South Sudan only had eight qualified midwives. Through the midwifery project, which is also funded by the Government of Canada, there are now close to 900 qualified midwives across the country – 700 of them received direct support from the midwifery project. In addition, Sweden’s expanded support covers the deployment of midwives and equipping of 14 health facilities across the country.

In 2019, Sweden expanded its support to cover the entire Country Programme, which is implemented at national and state levels. The programme includes providing services for maternal health, family planning, gender-based violence, adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health, comprehensive sexuality education and HIV prevention, focusing on those affected by the protracted humanitarian crisis in the country, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Sweden also works with UNFPA and partners in the government and civil society for youth empowerment and participation.

During the week-long celebration of International Day of the Midwife, UNFPA Country Representative Dr. Mary Otieno acknowledge the support of Sweden and other donors in advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in South Sudan. “It is because of the donors’ support that we are able to achieve programme results despite a myriad of challenges,” Dr. Otieno said at the national midwifery conference in Juba.