February 1, 2014 (JUBA) - Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said ongoing insecurity had forced 240 of its local staff in South Sudan’s Unity state to abandon its medical facility on Friday and flee into the bush along with dozens of patients.
- Ongoing insecurity has forced Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to suspend its operations in Unity state’s Leer town (Photo: Kim Clausen/MSF)
In a statement released on Friday, the medical charity said staff had taken several dozen of the most severely ill patients from Leer Hospital with them into the bush, while other patients who were well enough to leave on their own also fled.
MSF said it remained “extremely worried” about the safety and well-being of both staff and patients in Leer.
There are now no longer any patients or staff remaining at the hospital, where MSF has worked for the past 25 years.
MSF was one of the last remaining humanitarian organisations still working in Unity state after violence engulfed Sudan following clashes between rival tribal factions of the presidential guard in mid-December.
The agency said Leer Hospital was the only fully functioning hospital in southern Unity state and its closure means more than 270,000 people will be without access to healthcare services.
In early January, MSF staff in Bentiu were forced to relocate to Leer town due to the deteriorating security situation, with the agency warning at the time that thousands of people in the capital would be deprived of healthcare as a result.
The decision came after the Bentiu medical facility was looted as rebels aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar withdrew from the town after government forces retook the town, which changed hands several times during the conflict.
MSF head of mission Raphael Gorgeu said local staff had managed to keep the Leer medical facility running as long as possible despite “incredibly challenging circumstances”.
“However in the past three days, the situation became too unstable and the only way to provide medical care was to take patients out of the hospital and to flee with the population into the bush”, she said.
On 21 January, MSF evacuated 12 international staff members, although many locally-hired staff chose to remain in Leer and continue providing medical care.
Gorgeu said local medical teams had shown “tremendous dedication” in continuing to care for patients with only basic medical supplies and equipment at great personal risk.
“In the last six weeks in South Sudan, our staff have worked in extreme conditions – we’ve been forced to evacuate multiple times, our facilities have been looted and our teams have operated in areas of active conflict,” she said.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes in southern Unity State since the conflict began, including more than 10,000 displaced from the fighting in Bentiu who had fled to Leer only to be displaced for a second time.
Gorgeu said many of those displaced were without access to adequate food, clean water or shelter and remained vulnerable to disease outbreaks and malnutrition.
With dwindling medical supplies and the hospital’s closure, she said the humanitarian situation in Leer was likely to become even more dire.
Gorgeu said MSF’s Leer facility has provided outpatient and inpatient care for children and adults, surgery, maternity, HIV/TB treatment, and intensive care services. She said the agency was ready to return to Leer once the security situation allows.
In the first five weeks of the crisis, MSF has carried out 71,973 consultations, including 27, 688 for children under 5 in the first five weeks of the crisis.
It is continuing to provide medical and humanitarian services to refugees from South Sudan in Kenya and Uganda, and will soon begin operations for refugees in Ethiopia