South Sudan is the world’s newest country, having gained independence in 2011. After years of conflict, the country is working on rebuilding and developing a future and eradicating pernicious diseases.
On Sunday, Nora Dunlap, a public health worker who grew up in Davis and lives in Woodland, will talk about her experiences in South Sudan and her desire to return there as soon as possible.
International House, Davis, is hosting Dunlap’s 7 p.m. talk, which is free, and the public is invited. Refreshments will be served. I-House is at 10 College Park.
“The high burden of disease that is affecting local populations and communities is one challenge the new government is trying to tackle,” Dunlap said.
The South Sudan Guinea Worm Eradication Program, supported by the Carter Center, is focusing on the complete eradication of guinea worm disease in the country. Guinea worms are parasites that burrow in the tissue of humans, dogs, cats, horses, cattle and other mammals.
“Through health education, filter distribution and case tracking, the program is making great strides and is helping communities take the necessary steps to eliminate this disease,” she added.
When the Carter Center began working on guinea worm disease in 1986, there were 3.5 million cases in 21 countries. In 2013 that number fell to 148 cases in four countries. More than 100 of those cases were in South Sudan.
“This has become what is seen as the final stronghold of the disease,” she said. “However, great progress is being made there as well. In 2012 there were 521 cases of guinea worm in South Sudan, so the reductions are clear. This decrease in cases is primarily due to the partnership with communities the program builds and the on-the-ground dedication and commitment of field staff.”
Dunlap arrived in South Sudan in March 2013 to work as a technical adviser. This involved managing the field staff and guinea worm program in a very remote area of the country.
“Although I have worked in Africa in the past, this experience was very different,” she said. “In Kauto East, where I was stationed, there are no roads, schools, telecommunication networks or infrastructure. The markets and clinics that do exist are few and far between and are often understocked and unhelpful. Fortunately, the tools for the eradication of guinea worm are extremely low-tech.
“My job primarily involved going from village to village and talking to people. As a team, we worked to provide direct health education and to teach the skills needed to change behavior. I lived and worked in my communities for 10 months before I was evacuated.”
She is waiting to return to South Sudan when the security situation in country stabilizes.
Dunlap received her bachelor’s degree in global studies from UC Santa Barbara and a master’s in public health from Columbia University.
She has spent a significant part of her life traveling and working around the world and has always had a focus and interest in international health programs.