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Attacks on hospitals hamper South Sudan humanitarian response

South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.
South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.

The ongoing fighting in South Sudan continues to put the people living in the country at risk, as well as the people trying to provide humanitarian assistance. Its impact has extended beyond the young country’s borders and into neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

Hospitals run by the medical NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have experienced attacks and evidence of patients murdered in their hospital beds. The challenge to provide medical aid coupled with insecurity and poor living conditions in camp are making for a worrying combination says the group.

“This lack of respect for medical care has deprived people lifesaving care at a time they need it most,” said Chris Lockyear, MSF’s operations manager for South Sudan, in a press call last week.

Equally concerning is what MSF sees as a lack of respect for humanitarian actors and medical facilities. On February 22, the MSF team working at the Malakal teaching hospital discovered fourteen dead bodies. The evidence suggested that they were shot dead in their hospital beds, said Lockyear. A similar report from Bor in December cited patients killed in their beds.

In another incident earlier this year, a team working in Unity State were forced to evacuate when fighting began to affect the hospital, leaving thousands of people with no access to medical care. MSF staff are back working at the hospital, but the situation remains tenuous.

South Sudan numbers

The situation was described by Lockyear and Jerome Oberreit, MSF’s international secretary general. The press call came following a recent visit by Oberreit to the east African nation that has left him with serious concerns about the coming months. MSF is presently working in nine out of South Sudan’s ten states, providing services include medicines, clean water, care for patients with TB and children suffering from malnutrition.

“There is a striking slow and inadequate response by the humanitarian organizations,” said Oberreit.

He described the scene in the IDP camp located in South Sudan’s capital city of Juba. The basic health needs of people living in the camp were not being met before the start of the rainy season. An estimated 25,000 people are living in the Tomping camp, experiencing in what Oberreit characterized as ‘horrific conditions.’ The few latrines that were available were destroyed by recent rains and more is expected to fall in the near future.

“The camp risks becoming an epicenter of outbreak and disease,” he said.

There are more than 800,000 people displaced in South Sudan and another 254,600 have left the country, says the UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in a report Friday. The roughly 74,000 refugees who are in the Gambela region of Ethiopia are also cause for concern, said Lockyear. He described the conditions as ‘grim’ for those living in the region.

“It is hard to really verify the real scale of people displaced by this conflict. Regardless of the true numbers, the scale of the crisis cannot be underestimated,” said Oberreit.

statement released by ambassadors from the US, EU, UK, Netherlands, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Norway, France and Germany condemned the actions carried out by both government and opposition forces in South Sudan, in relation to the UN Mission in South Sudan’s work.

“We condemn the violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law that have resulted in the loss of lives, and internal displacements as well as refugees along the borders in neighboring nations. We express concern at the dire humanitarian situation and urge all parties to expedite as a matter of urgency the free, safe and unhindered access of humanitarian organizations for the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need,” said the statement.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]