JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN—Thousands of people are going without desperately needed medical care after the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was forced to suspend activities in Malakal, South Sudan, following the looting of its compound yesterday.
MSF condemns the incident in the strongest possible terms. The suspension of medical activities comes barely one week after the looting of another MSF facility in Bentiu, capital of Unity state. Malakal is located in Upper Nile State.
"Armed men entered the MSF compound in Malakal twice yesterday, where they looted and physically threatened the team," said Arjan Hehenkamp, MSF general director. "These acts are totally unacceptable and seriously compromise MSF operations. The security of humanitarian aid workers has to be respected."
After widespread attacks and looting in the town yesterday, the hospital in Malakal received more than 80 wounded people. Large numbers of people have also gathered at the hospital with their belongings, in search of refuge.
"We have no choice today but to temporarily suspend our activities in Malakal hospital," Hehenkamp said. "This leaves thousands of people without much-needed surgical and general health care—a matter of huge concern to us."
Hundreds of people are reported to have fled Malakal due to increasing insecurity. The number of displaced people seeking shelter at a United Nations base in Malakal has doubled in the past four days, to an estimated 20,000. The violence has prevented MSF teams from providing the displaced with medical care, while a much-needed vaccination campaign planned for January 13 had to be canceled.
After heavy fighting broke out in Malakal on January 13, MSF's emergency teams treated more than 130 patients with gunshot wounds in Malakal and Nasir.
"Our concern is that there could be many more wounded people who are unable to access medical care," said Raphael Gorgeu, MSF's head of mission in South Sudan.
MSF has been working in the Malakal region since 2002. Prior to the conflict, MSF teams provided the local community with treatment for the neglected disease kala azar and provided assistance to refugees from Sudan.
After the outbreak of hostilities in December, MSF reinforced its team in Malakal to provide surgical and post-operative care for wounded patients at the hospital, and general health care for displaced people who had sought refuge in the UN base in the town.
MSF calls on all parties to the conflict to respect the integrity of its health facilities and to allow patients to access medical care irrespective of their origin and ethnicity.
MSF has been working in the region that today constitutes the Republic of South Sudan since 1983, and currently runs 15 projects in nine of the country's 10 states, with regular projects in Agok, Aweil, Gogrial, Leer, Maban, Malakal, Nasir, Yambio, Lankien, Yuai, and Yida and four additional emergency operations in Juba, Awerial, Malakal, and Nimule. MSF responds to emergencies, including large-scale displacement, refugee influxes, alarming nutrition situations, and peaks of disease such as measles, malaria, acute watery diarrhea, and kala azar, in addition to providing basic and specialist health care services. MSF currently has 278 international staff working in its projects alongside 2,890 South Sudanese staff.