February 14, 2013
South Sudan 2012 © Brendan Bannon
MSF is treating 13 patients in two health facilities in South Sudan's Upper Nile State following an attack in Jonglei State's Akobo County on February 8. The majority of these patients are women and children, and all but one suffered gunshot wounds, including a pregnant 34-year-old woman and a three-year-old child.
"Our patients tell us they were migrating from their village in Walgak toward the Sobat River with their cattle when they were attacked," says Michiel van Tongeren, MSF project coordinator in Nasir. "They say the attackers were armed with guns and many people were killed. They report that [the wounded were] mostly women and children, as the men were faster to escape. Some people returned to bury the dead and help the wounded, but then they became scared and fled again."
A large number of people fled to the Ulang area following the attack. An MSF team is there identifying wounded people and stabilizing patients in a health care facility. Once stable, patients are transported by boat to an MSF hospital in Nasir. The surgical team in Nasir has operated on 12 patients since February 11 and is continuing to operate on more patients as needed. All patients are currently in a stable condition.
"Right now, it is not clear just how many more wounded people are hiding in the bush who have not yet been able to access medical care," says van Tongeren. "We are trying to find them and refer them to our hospital in Nasir for treatment. We will start carrying out mobile clinics to identify more wounded and provide medical care for this vulnerable population who survived the attack."
MSF has repeatedly sounded the alarm on the high levels of violence affecting the population in Jonglei, a state where access to health care is already tremendously difficult. In November 2012 MSF issued a report documenting the devastating impact of the extreme violence on the lives and health of civilians in the state.
"It is not only the direct consequences of violence, such as gunshot wounds, that we are concerned about," says Raphael Gorgeu, MSF head of mission in South Sudan. "Our experience working in Jonglei shows that there are less visible but equally serious indirect consequences. Entire communities have to flee for their lives deep into the bush. Without shelter, food, or safe drinking water, they are susceptible to malaria, pneumonia, malnutrition, and diarrhea.”
MSF has been working in Jonglei state since 1993. MSF provides primary and secondary health care at its health centers in Pibor, Uror, and Nyirol counties, as well as emergency medical care in response to outbreaks of extreme violence. Patients in need of surgery are referred to MSF health facilities in Nasir (Upper Nile State) and Leer (Unity State), and, in some cases, to Boma hospital and to Juba teaching hospital. In November 2012, MSF published the report South Sudan’s Hidden Crisis: How Violence Against Civilians is Devastating Communities and Preventing Access to Lifesaving Health Care in Jonglei.
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)