"He said, ‘You will stay in my thoughts
forever, Jeffrey,’” said Carter Center conflict resolution
expert Jeffrey Mapendere, reflecting on his parting words with a
Sudanese health care worker.
The farewell was one Mapendere and other center experts shared with
16 health care workers they had trained in conflict-resolution skills.
Mapendere said the workers, frustrated by the Sudanese civil war’s
destructive impact on their treatment efforts, initially doubted
that those skills would help them accomplish their goal of ridding
Sudan of Guinea worm disease. But at the conclusion of their weeklong
training, the workers’ reactions were a testimony to their
renewed hope, Mapendere said.
The Carter Center has been working in Sudan both to resolve the
civil war and eradicate Guinea worm disease, a parasitic disease
contracted through consumption of contaminated water. While the
center has decreased Guinea worm worldwide from 3.5 million cases
to just 65,000 in the past decade, Sudan harbors about 80 percent
of those remaining, and health care workers often cannot reach Guinea
worm-afflicted villages in southern Sudan because of the conflict.
The center, in collaboration with Emory’s Institute for Health
and Conflict, held its first workshop in January in Sudan’s
capital of Khartoum to teach health care workers conflict-resolution
skills. They learned how to negotiate access into villages that
have been seized by soldiers and how to settle village disputes,
as Guinea worm workers often are seen as respected community leaders.
“Promoting health is a very good way to address politics in
a warring environment,” said Matt Hill, a Carter Center conflict
resolution intern who traveled to Khartoum for the project. “In
Sudan’s civil war, both sides have soldiers with Guinea worm
disease, so they are more inclined to comply with our efforts. They
put politics aside and began to trust us when they saw we were there
The Sudanese health workers spoke Arabic, which necessitated the
use of translators and required center staff to condense ideas into
concise sentences for quick translation.
“The language barrier was challenging, but by the last day
of training, you could tell they were excited to use these new skills
in practice,” said Alex Little, a Carter Center conflict resolution
In turn, the trainers heard from the workers their difficulties
in treating Guinea worm disease in war-torn areas. One frequent
problem is losing contact with patients who have fled their homes
due to fighting and not knowing whether the patients had been reinfected.
“Through conversation, we got a much better idea of the problems
that Sudanese healthcare workers face, which will help us in future,”
said David Davis, professor of political science who also traveled
to Sudan. “That was something very useful that came about
in this pilot experience.”
The project’s staff plans to evaluate the pilot program’s
effectiveness over the next six months through follow-up interviews
with the health care workers. Mapendere said the enthusiastic reaction
of the workers is testimony already to the project’s success.
“At first, they were reserved and serious—tired of conflict,”
Mapendere said. “When we finished the training, they were
excited and very confident. All of us left with a sense of achievement.”