Tut Thomas Simon is a second year student in the Save the Mothers Master’s of Public Health Leadership program. A clinician and public health officer, he comes from South Sudan, a country that has been ravaged by endless conflict. Communications Intern Fortunate Kagumaho spoke to Tut about his work on behalf of the women of South Sudan.
Three civil wars (the most recent of which broke out in December, 2013) have devastated South Sudan’s health and social infrastructure. Decades of conflict, combined with frequent natural disasters and serious political and economic mismanagement have impeded any real social development. Most public sector services have been eroded, abandoned or replaced by what many people see as unsustainable external humanitarian relief. Two-thirds of health facilities in conflict-affected areas are reportedly closed or operating at limited capacity.
Second year Save the Mothers student Tut Thomas Simon has experienced the disruption firsthand. “This situation has led to the displacement of many people from their homes,” he says. “I personally fled to Ethiopia in 1988–1991 as a refugee. In 1992–2005 I ran to Uganda as a refugee, and from 2015 to now, I’m back in Uganda as a refugee for third time.”
Cut off from basic services and healthcare, pregnant women are particularly vulnerable. One in seven South Sudanese women dies in pregnancy or childbirth, often because of infection, puerperal fever, retained placenta, haemorrhage, or obstructed labour. The lack of access to healthcare facilities plays a large role in these deaths. There is also a high risk of child marriage and sexual violence. Adolescent girls and young women face specific reproductive health challenges, including unwanted and complicated pregnancy and delivery, unsafe abortion, obstetric and traumatic fistula, psychological trauma, sexually transmitted infections and HIV.
“After working for seven years in clinical medical practice, I was looking for a change in direction, something that would bring more meaning to the lives of the women in South Sudan and address their reproductive issues and other related health problems,” he says.
“The Save the Mothers program has been a truly inspirational experience. The course has given me an in-depth understanding of the global issues and challenges surrounding reproductive and sexual health among women.”
Since enrolling in the course, Tut says he has been on the front lines, advocating to change entrenched cultural beliefs surrounding the lack of women’s rights, gender-based violence, and male involvement. He has also provided leadership in the training of new health care workers, and lobbied for resources needed to help save the lives of thousands of women.
His commitment to helping the women of South Sudan runs to a deeply personal level; he donates his own blood to those suffering from anaemia.
“Whenever anyone asks me about women’s lives in South Sudan, I shed tears,” says Tut.