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Volunteer’s insight into reality of famine and war in South Sudan

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South Sudan’s ongoing civil war has left 3.8 million people needing urgent assistance, with more than 1.5 million being displaced. Famine is a real and imminent threat, according to aid agencies in the region.

BY EMMA FLAHERTY

I was working at a plastic table in the temporary warehouse that we use as our office when a colleague rushed in with disturbing news: an aircraft that came in just after her flight landed had been shot down. An agitated discussion swept through the warehouse. Some said they saw smoke plumes rising south of the base.

As the field coordinator for Concern Worldwide in Bentiu, my first priority was to make sure that it was not an aircraft carrying my colleague, who had been earlier planning to  head to Pariang [also in Unity State]. Thankfully, he was not on the flight. The crashed aircraft was a cargo helicopter and, tragically ,three of the four people on board were killed.

A month ago, my reaction would have been one of shock. But since then security has deteriorated so recently that my initial reaction is more subdued. Bad news has, in some ways, ceased to be shocking in one of the most contested areas of South Sudan’s civil war.

In August, government and rebel forces clashed just a few kilometres from our base. Then sustained shooting was aimed towards the base, wounding a child who was waiting for medical care, and hitting humanitarian housing and offices. Recently, a helicopter had been downed in what Toby Lanzer, the UN Assistant Secretary-General in South Sudan, called “a hostile act against the United Nations”.

But this is Bentiu. If we stopped every time something bad happened, we would get nothing done. Even just after the crash, we carried on with our work. After all, we are told once every two weeks or so that major fighting is imminent. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. That is the nature of this conflict. It is unpredictable.

As a humanitarian organisation delivering life-saving services in the camp – from clean water and sanitation to nutrition and shelter –  we have to plan with this volatility in mind so we can continue to serve the 46,000 people who have found shelter here.

We are spending a lot of time in bunkers on the base, sheltering from the fighting. If people have time to grab their laptops, they pass the time working. Some play cards, but usually we talk and try to figure out where the shooting is coming from. We are released when UN security announces over the radio that it is safe to come outside again.

No two days are the same. Some days I might be wading around in the camp’s drainage channels on a shelter assessment or handing out tokens for a distribution. Other days I might be wading through budget realignments, wishing I was back in the drainage channel.

Until recently, we lived in something of a bubble. We are in a war zone, certainly, but as we are on a UN base, there was a sense of the war being “out there”. In fact, that is the point of this camp, or “protection of civilian” site, as we call them here—to give civilians protection from the conflict and access to life-saving services.

However, events in the past three weeks have changed everything. The shooting incident a few weeks ago has shaken us all. The bullet holes in the office and housing containers are a constant reminder that we have chosen to put ourselves in the middle of a brutal and unpredictable conflict, where respect for  humanitarian principles and laws seems to be a lofty aspiration.

However, just a few hundred metres away from where we work and sleep is the reminder why we are and should be here.

There are more than 46,000 people who have fled desperate circumstances only to find themselves in a different kind of hell. Heavy rains have left the base flooded and people are living knee-deep in water – sometimes waist-deep.

It is a terrible and incomprehensible thing that people should be reduced to living like this in order to feel safe from violence and hunger. We have to be here to support them. There is no question of that.

As long as we can be here, we must be here.

> Emma Flaherty from Knocknacarra in Galway City is Area Co-ordinator with Concern in Unity State, South Sudan, based in the city of bentiu.

Connacht Tribune

Galway broadcaster Sean O’Rourke is back – exploring the world on podcast platform

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For years he had mere minutes to grill the political elite or just three questions to sum up the weekend in sport – but these days broadcaster Sean O’Rourke has more time for reflection . . . and his legion of listeners can look forward to reaping the benefits.

Because the former host of Radio One’s flagship Today programme is back on the airwaves – this time in a series of podcast interviews with a host of well-known names from the worlds of politics, current affairs, culture and sport, for starters.

And the 40- to 50-minute format allows him a luxury that the speed and urgency of morning radio didn’t – time to explore and reflect on life’s ups and downs in the public eye and away from the spotlight.

“When I was doing the Today programme or the News at One, we were always up against pressure of time. Occasionally, of course, there were longer interviews – but for the most part, there were programme elements that had to fit in and it didn’t always allow for that,” he says.

Now, however, Insights with Sean O’Rourke will allow him the space and time to chat and reflect on the world with a whole host of familiar names.

The first two podcasts dropped last week; one with former Irish rugby international Donncha O’Callaghan and the other with Minister of State at the Department of Finance Jennifer Carroll McNeill, who by coincidence is married to former Irish rugby star, Hugo McNeill.

Other names already confirmed include Social Democrats new leader Holly Cairns and Fiona Mulcahy, Medical Director of the Department of Genito Urinary Medicine and Infectious Diseases at St James’s Hospital, Dublin and Trinity College Professor,.who was named Irish Woman of the Year in 1996 for her work in the field of HIV.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“We’ve done a really fascinating one for example with Alan English, the editor of the Sunday Independent, where he explores the change from editing a local paper (the Limerick Leader) to a national one – as well as looking at the rapidly changing face of newspapers in general and journalism as a whole,” says Sean.

He is intimately familiar with both regional and national media, of course, having cut his teeth in his adopted home city of Galway with the Connacht Tribune, and then making his name in the Irish Press and Sunday Press, alongside his time as a household name in RTÉ.

He’s been only an occasional visitor to the airwaves since his retirement from that station at the age of 65 – a situation in part down to his attendance at the infamous Golfgate night in Clifden – but this is a welcome return to the frontline.

“I love the long-form style of interview; it gives you a chance to go a little deeper and hopefully discover more of the person themselves,” he says.

“It gives me an opportunity I’ve rarely had in the past, to conduct long-form interviews with interesting people, free from the pressures of time, the daily news agenda and hitting the next commercial break.

“The format allows for a more relaxed engagement and, I would hope, a really informative and enjoyable experience for the listener.

“For me, it’s a refreshing change from what I’ve done before, and I’m delighted to be back at the microphone.”

Most of the recordings are done ‘as live’ – with just minimal editing ‘to tidy up my mistakes!’ he jokes. That gives them the freshness and immediacy, as well as allowing more time to expand.

“The choice of interviewee is a collaboration between myself and our producer Alice O’Sullivan. Of the first two, for example, Jennifer was me and Donnacha was Alice’s suggestion.”

But Sean acknowledges that this collaboration also plays to his strengths – in terms of politics, current affairs and sport.

“Most of all I hope it’s a good listen with interesting people who have interesting things to say . . . what makes people tick; what makes them who they are,” he says.

So, for the first two – released last week – Donncha O’Callaghan revealed what drove him to be the very best player on the pitch, the contrasting coaching styles of Eddie O’Sullivan, Declan Kidney and Joe Schmidt and why this current Irish team could go all the way and win the World Cup.

But he also explored the reality of taking responsibility for your financial decisions – and how that had impacted on his post-rugby security.

Jennifer Carroll McNeill discussed her harassment and the ensuing court case, her desire to see more women in Government – and why Fine Gael will not go into Government with Sinn Féin.

At least one new episode will drop each Thursday, and the plan for now is to do around 40 a year for each of the next two years – with the occasional dive into the RTÉ archives as well.

And, most of all, it finds the Portarlington-born, adopted Galwegian back doing what he does best – digging deep, asking the right questions . . .only now with more time for the answers.

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Connacht Tribune

HIQA report finds issues with hygiene, staffing and food at nursing home in Moycullen

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Despite three inspections over the course of six weeks, a Moycullen nursing home continued to have poor hygiene standards, substandard food and inadequate staff numbers to run it.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) issued urgent orders to comply with a raft of regulations to Teaghlach Uillinn at Kilrainey, Moycullen, which was registered to care for a maximum of 75 residents. When last inspected in February there were only 47 residents living there.

In the inspection on January 11, the inspectors identified 17 different breaches, four of them deemed the most serious relating to a lack of food and drink for residents, standards for the prevention and control of infections, staff numbers at mealtimes and enough staff to give adequate care for residents.

There was a huge issue with recruiting and retaining staff at the centre. While 30 staff had been recruited since July 2022, a total of 35 staff had left the service within the same period of time.

Feedback from residents was poor, describing the care they received as ‘inconsistent’ and beset with delays due to lack of staff.

Some residents told the inspectors that they would have to shout for assistance because their call bell was unplugged or out of reach. A number of residents were still in bed at midday because there were no staff free to come to their aid.

There were just two care assistants available to support 15 residents with their meals.

Following warnings given in the previous two inspections, the third inspection found a continued lack of oversight of infection prevention and control and a poor standard of hygiene in the kitchen.

The quality of meals served to residents had remained “a very poor standard”.

“Inspectors found that the food preparation, meal cooking, cleaning and washing, storage and service areas were visibly unclean on inspection. Equipment and utensils used for cooking were also found not to be clean.

“Communal bathrooms were visibly unclean on inspection and there was continued poor practice observed with regard to the storage of equipment and supplies to reduce the risk of cross contamination,” the last report stated.

There was poor oversight over the diet of residents who had been assessed as at risk of malnutrition. Residents who couldn’t eat regular food had their meals blended together in a way that was not “appealing and attractive” “in terms of flavour, texture and appearance”.

The standard of hygiene in the kitchen and catering areas “did not ensure that food was properly and safely prepared as the catering environment was not clean”.

“This issue was brought to the attention of the management team during the inspection of January 11 and 27 and this inspection resulting in a third urgent compliance plan being issued to the provider to address the hygiene of the kitchen.”

While there was some improvement in the cleanliness of the bedrooms and communal areas, bathrooms and showers were still dirty.

“The provider had failed to ensure that robust management systems were in place to monitor the quality and safety of the service provided to residents. Following this inspection, further urgent action was required by the registered provider and the office of the Chief Inspector of Social Services issued a further urgent compliance plan in respect of food and nutrition, governance and management.”

In response, the operators, Knegare Nursing Home Holdings Ltd, said it had recruited more experienced staff, including a regional manager and a second clinical nurse manager to oversee standard of hygiene, mealtimes and kitchen activity.

An extensive cleaning regime had been devised, with a new chef appointed who would meet with each resident and discuss their preferences.

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Connacht Tribune

Backlog at pain clinic in Galway means no treatment for patients

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Hundreds of patients are living in agony every day as they wait years for an appointment at the Pain Clinic at University Hospital Galway.

One elderly woman in Galway, a cancer survivor, has been told it will be two years before she has access to pain relief and treatment at the clinic.

She suffers from chronic back pain, and chronic pain associated with Lymphodema, a swelling caused by cancer treatment. Another two years without access to the Pain Clinic was a bleak prospect.

“It is unreal; I could be dead by then,” she said.

This woman is one of 1,061 patients on UHG’s Pain Clinic Outpatient Waiting List.

The figures were supplied by the HSE to the Connacht Tribune following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

They show that the waiting list has been reduced in the past year, but there are still some 1,061 patients on the waiting list for a Pain Clinic appointment as of March 31, 2023.

Of these, only 40 have an appointment date. A further 894 on the list have no appointment date. Some 127 patients, including 105 waiting for over four years, are patients who have been outsourced to the private sector for treatment. Another 22 people waiting for over three years have also been outsourced for treatment.

Almost 40% of the patients on the list have been waiting for more than two years. Some 152 have been waiting for over two years; some 157 have been waiting for over three years; and some 113 have been waiting for over four years. Some 251 patients have been added to the list in the past three-nine months.

The waiting list as of March 2022 was 25% bigger than it was a year later. There were 1,419 waiting back then but the HSE has confirmed that it has since started outsourcing the work to private hospitals, “as part of ongoing initiatives to reduce waiting times for patients”.

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