February 10, 2002

Medical Supplies and Food Stolen from MSF Offices

New York, February 11, 2002 — Last Thursday, the international medical organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) returned to Nimne in oil-rich Western Upper Nile, southern Sudan for an assessment following a weeklong evacuation. While the tukuls (mud huts) remained standing, the entire village had been systematically looted. Personal possessions and food stocks were taken from the homes of Nimne residents. The MSF health facilities and living compound were empty: medication, food for patients, and other supplies were stolen from the compound, while additional medical items, such as laboratory materials, were destroyed and scattered throughout the village.

"This is a targeted act of violence against the community in Nimne," said Arjan Hehenkamp, MSF Head of Mission, southern Sudan. "This population has already suffered several years of insecurity and is extremely vulnerable. Now that they have lost their food stocks, it's unclear whether the patients in our program will be able to stay in Nimne—and there are not many safe alternative places to go in western Upper Nile these days."

Prior to the evacuation, MSF was running a kala azar project with 107 patients under treatment and a basic health care unit with 1,700 to 2,000 consultations per month. There were three suspected cases of meningitis. While one patient died, the other two, who were showing signs of improvement, have now had their treatment disrupted.

The community and the MSF team left Nimne on February 1 after reports were received that many soldiers were heading towards the village. Alongside the MSF team, families gathered as many of their possessions as they could carry on their heads and ran from their homes in fear of being killed. They crossed cold, deep, crocodile-infested rivers through the night. The MSF team returned to Nimne for a brief visit a week later to assess the situation in terms of health and security.

"It was a complete shock for us to see the mindless destruction which was carried out," said Jan van 't Land, Project Coordinator for the program, who carried out the assessment. "They took what was valuable, but they also deliberately damaged the laboratory equipment, kitchen shelves and other items. Syringes and needles littered the village amongst the debris."

The population of Western Upper Nile has suffered enormously over the last few years. Since early 1998, fighting between militia groups allied to both rebel and government forces has swept through the region and caused repeated displacements of communities. Most families have lost all cattle—their main livelihood—due to raiding from armed groups. Health facilities and other services provided by humanitarian agencies have ceased in many areas due to the insecurity.

"Many of our patients have lost their homes and family members to violence and disease," stated Jose Antonio Bastos, Director of Operations for Sudan. "What happened in Nimne is not new; it's just the latest example of the warring parties' disregard for international humanitarian law in Sudan—with tragic consequences for the civilians. I hope that we can soon return to Nimne and resume treatment, particularly with the meningitis and kala azar patients, as soon as security permits."

MSF has worked in Western Upper Nile since 1988 providing basic health care, as well as kala azar and tuberculosis treatment. The area is endemic for kala azar, a debilitating disease transmitted by the sand fly that is fatal if not treated in a timely way.
 

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