February 26, 2014 (JUBA) – Warring factions in South Sudan have burned medical facilities, shot dead patients in their beds and looted equipment in a series of disturbing attacks on healthcare services, Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Wednesday.
- Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has expressed dismay at the continued targeting of medical facilities and patients during ongoing conflict in South Sudan (Photo: Kim Clausen/MSF)
MSF staff discovered at least 14 dead bodies in Upper Nile state’s Malakal Teaching Hospital compound on Saturday, saying victims appeared to have been murdered as they lay in their beds.
The patients were among up to 75 people who had remained at the facility because they were too weak or elderly to flee to safety. A therapeutic ward used to treat malnourished children had also been burned.
In Unity state’s volatile Leer region MSF’s hospital was completely destroyed after military forces ransacked the facility.
The international medical says the attacks on medical facilities means hundreds of thousands of people will be without access to lifesaving healthcare assistance.
The capital of Upper Nile state, Malakal, has recently been the scene of heavy battles between rebel forces aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar and pro-government troops, with the key oil-producing town changing hands several times at the height of the conflict.
MSF’s emergency coordinator in Malakal, Carlos Francisco, described scenes of devastation in the gruesome aftermath of the recent fighting.
“Malakal is deserted, with houses burned throughout and countless dead bodies strewn in the streets,” he said. “I can find no words to describe the brutality in Malakal, which has left in its wake a ransacked city and a thoroughly traumatised people.”
Meanwhile, and MSF assessment team that recently returned to Leer found the hospital there in ruins, with drug supplies destroyed and equipment and buildings reduced to ash.
“Leer is now empty of civilians who have fled continued insecurity and are living in terrible conditions in the bush, too terrified to return home,” said Sarah Maynard, MSF project coordinator for Leer. “But even if they were to come back tomorrow or a month from now, they would return to ruins of their former home and no healthcare.
Leer hospital had been the only fully functioning medical facility in southern Unity state, providing healthcare for about 300,000 people in the region, and MSF says its destruction is “catastrophic for the population”.
Hospital operations were suspended in January after ongoing insecurity forced 240 locally-hired MSF staff to abandon the facility and flee into the bush, taking with them doens of the most seeverely ill patients.
Earlier the same month, MSF staff in Bentiu were forced to relocate to Leer town amid security fears after its healthcare facility in the Unity state capital was looted by rebel fighters.
According to MSF, its local staff in Leer remain hidden in the bush, struggling to treat patients with rapidly dwindling supplies. The staff report they have been forced to reuse wound dressings, while patients in their care have become ill from drinking dirty river water and eating water lilies due to a lack of food.
“MSF is exploring every avenue to provide healthcare to the displaced and resupply its staff,” the agency said in a statement on Wednesday.
Widespread conflict has engulfed South Sudan after initial clashes erupted in the capital, Juba, on 15 December between rival factions of the presidential guards. Both sides have been accused of committing atrocities and violence has continued despite a ceasefire agreement signed on 23 January in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The targeting of medical and humanitarian facilities has become a disturbing trend since conflict erupted, says MSF, adding that its work in the country has become increasingly undermined by a “climate of utter disrespect and fear”.
“Rather than safe havens for treatment, hospitals are now targets of attack and brutality. They are places to fear rather than trust, a complete inversion of their purpose and role,” MSF’s head of mission, Raphael Gorgeu, said on Wednesday.