October 04, 2012

Attacks Threatens MSF Medical Mission

Fighting in Aden forced MSF to suspend medical operations and call for greater respect for medical facilities, even amid Yemen's ongoing strife.

ADEN, YEMEN, October 5, 2012 – Patients at a surgical hospital in the southern Yemeni city of Aden have been evacuated, and the hospital has been shut down, following the exchange of gunfire within the health facility’s compound, the latest in a string of violent incidents there, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

The MSF-supported surgical hospital, part of the Yemeni ministry of health’s Al Wahda Health Complex, was forced to close after armed groups entered the hospital grounds on September 27, exchanging gunfire.

“Two of our guards were beaten and threatened at gunpoint while shots were fired from both sides of the hospital wall,” said Anne Garella, MSF project coordinator. “We were lucky that patients were not hurt, but a person was injured and we provided him with emergency care. Tensions inside the hospital were very high and no one was able to leave the premises for five hours.”

The 40-bed, emergency surgical hospital opened in April, 2012, and has provided treatment for more than 500 men, women and children, including victims of landmines and armed violence. MSF has a strict no-weapons policy in all its medical facilities and cares for the wounded and sick without discrimination, and regardless of the reasons for their medical conditions.

“We treat people of all social and political backgrounds based on humanitarian principals,” said Thomas Balivet, MSF head of mission.

The exchange of gunfire was the latest in a series of security incidents threatening the MSF medical mission. In April this year, doctors in the same hospital were seriously threatened by patients. The following month, armed forces forcibly entered the building in an attempt to remove a patient. Shooting took place at the hospital gate in July.

Despite MSF’s best efforts to guarantee the integrity of the facility, the latest attack underscores the urgent need for local authorities and community leaders to undertake serious measures to prevent further attacks.

“We have reached a point where we really need substantial commitments from local communities and authorities to ensure that the hospital and its immediate vicinity remain free of weapons,” said Balivet.

MSF looks forward to a prompt resolution of the current situation, and is negotiating with authorities to ensure that the wounded and sick receive the care they need without discrimination and regardless of the cause or reason of their medical situation. Authorities in Aden and in the capital, Sanaa have assured their support for the safe re-opening of the surgical structure and for the protection of medical staff and patients.

MSF began working in Yemen 1986. In addition to working in the governorates of Aden, Ad-Dhali, and Abyan, MSF carries out surgical and medical activities in the governorates of Amran and Hajjah in the north of the country. MSF does not accept funding from any government for its work in Yemen; it relies solely on private donations.