Family's `great burden' in evacuating South Sudan hospital

FORMER Launceston doctor Graham Poole and his wife Linda have felt a great burden since they evacuated South Sudan with their children last year.

Faced with escalating conflict and instability, they left for Uganda before Christmas when the hospital where Dr Poole worked was closed, and knew women and children would die in their absence.

Dr Poole had been working at pregnancy and childbirth- focused hospital His House of Hope since he moved to the village of Yei with his wife and three children - Jasmine, 11, Caleb, 8, and Josiah, 5 - in July 2012.

The hospital reopened in January, and the Poole family will return indefinitely next month after spending some time with friends and family in Launceston.

Dr Poole said they had coped well with the challenges of life in South Sudan, where there was little infrastructure, roads of dirt and dust, and a community trying to rebuild after 20 years of civil war.

He said in his work he dealt with illnesses and conditions that were rare in Australia, such as malaria, typhoid, rabies, tetanus, mumps and measles, and severe forms of pregnancy illness.

"We're also doing this with minimal resources, and access to the hospital is very difficult for people in the village, so we've had patients carried in on a stretcher, and others who have walked five miles overnight to get to the hospital," Dr Poole said.

"There's also lot of witchcraft in the community that affects their presentation with illness or their willingness to accept treatment, so there's a lot of other social factors that affect how you care for people with illness."

Dr Poole said he felt the hospital's work was starting to have an impact, changing community attitudes about health care and death.

Mrs Poole home schools their children, visits babies at the hospital and the town's orphanage, and offers basic advice to new mothers.

Dr Poole said they felt grief over leaving when conflict escalated in the country in December, as they left behind friends and co-workers who didn't have the option to leave.

"When we left, we went with the burden of knowing that for the month the hospital was closed, there would be women and babies that would die because it was closed," he said.

"Thankfully no one on our staff got killed. Brothers did, cousins did, but all our staff have been protected and they're all back at work."

The Pooles will be holding an information night at The Branch, Kings Meadows, on Saturday April 5 at 7pm. For more information on His House of Hope, visit http://www.servants ofsouthsudan.net/.

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