This was your first mission with MSF. What made you go to the field?
I was considering going on a humanitarian mission for a long time, but it was only recently that I really felt ready. It is a big step to take, and you can find yourself in difficult or challenging situations quickly.
I thought it would be important to get some experience as a gynecologist before embarking on a humanitarian mission. After finishing my studies and over two years of practice, I attended a presentation of a colleague who was just back from Afghanistan. Her experience made me think, it may now be the time for me too.
I talked with my supervisor who agreed to let me go on a one-month mission. This is how I packed my bags for Aweil, South Sudan, where the temperatures rise up to 50 degrees in springtime!
Can you tell us more about your work in the field?
In Aweil, MSF runs the maternity and the paediatric ward of the hospital. I was the only gynecologist of the project, but quickly found myself well integrated into a big team of local health workers and other expatriates coming from all over the world.
The Aweil maternity is the only one in the region. Our teams assist up to 6,000 deliveries every year. I was on call 24/7 and had to respond to medical emergencies with very basic medical tools, facing constant shortages of stored blood and unequal levels of training amongst the staff. Besides the medical consultations and the surgeries I performed, I also supported training activities for my colleagues.
During my mission, I learned a lot about others but also about myself.
Juliette Fievez, gynecologist
One patient’s story particularly stroke me: a young mother with a breast abscess explained to me that she had swum to the hospital, because she needed to cross a river separating her form the hospital!
There are limited means of transport in South Sudan, mostly dirt tracks. Any trip is an expedition! Because it was important she could breastfeed after her operation, her family later sent a boat to pick her baby up at her village.
What will you remember from this mission?
My mission was a very fulfilling experience, from a professional and a personal point of view. There were some difficult moments, such as the arrival a 17-year-old patient with sepsis at the hospital on Christmas day. She was feverish, her eyes yellow, and she was extremely weak. We feared that we would lose her.
During three days, we checked her vital parameters every hour. Her family was staying by her side all the time, while the whole medical team was taking care of her, including the nurses, the anesthetist, and the physiotherapist. She was getting a little better every day, and her edema finally waned out. We were all so proud!
The kindness and dedication of my colleagues, along with these “small” victories, motivated me every day. During my mission, I learned a lot about others… but also about myself.
Civilians in South Sudan have borne the brunt of over five years of conflict. Healthcare is scarce or non-existent in many parts of South Sudan, with less than half the population estimated to have access to adequate medical services. There, MSF teams provide the most vulnerable with essential medical care through 16 projects throughout the country.