South Sudan: With Health Needs at Emergency Levels, Fighting Hinders Aid Response

South Sudan 2013 © Judy Waguma/MSF

The ongoing fighting in South Sudan is having increasingly serious consequences for the country’s population, says the international medical organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Medical needs are mounting while resources are dwindling due to the departure of many international organizations. But with instability hindering the ability of remaining aid groups to deliver assistance, an already difficult situation is getting even worse. 

“Highly vulnerable people have just become even more vulnerable," said Raphael Gorgeu, MSF’s head of mission in South Sudan. “We don’t know what will happen to the thousands of displaced and wounded people across the country.”

Even before the recent fighting broke out three weeks ago, 80 percent of all health care and basic services in South Sudan was provided by nongovernmental organizations. Still, many people had limited access to medical assistance. Most pregnant women were unable to give birth in a medical facility. There were limited treatment and vaccination options for children. And refugees taking shelter in the country were receiving the bare minimum of assistance.

Now, given the deteriorating, dangerous security conditions for the population and aid groups alike, access to care has gotten even more limited, an outcome that carries potentially grave consequences. "Today, there is a high risk of epidemics,” adds Gorgeu, “and if the fighting prevents us from gaining rapid and safe access to people in need—especially to pregnant women and children—conditions will quickly deteriorate.”

Nonetheless, MSF remains committed to continuing to provide assistance in South Sudan. MSF‘s emergency teams are currently working in Juba, Awerial, and Malakal to provide medical care to more than 110,000 people displaced from their homes by the fighting. Over the past three weeks, MSF medical teams responding to needs created by the conflict have provided 26,320 consultations, admitted 1,014 patients to its medical facilities, treated 426 people with gunshot wounds, and carried out 126 surgeries. MSF teams have also delivered more than 40 tons of medical and logistical supplies to its projects.

In addition, MSF is continuing wherever possible to run its much-needed regular medical projects across the country, despite the prevailing tension and shortages of drugs and fuel. The organization is also calling on all parties to the conflict to respect its medical facilities and staff and to allow people to access medical care irrespective of their origin or ethnicity.

MSF has been working in the region that today constitutes the Republic of South Sudan since 1983 and currently runs 16 projects in nine of the country’s ten states—Agok, Aweil, Bentiu, Gogrial, Gumuruk, Leer, Maban, Malakal, Nasir, Yambio, Lankien, Yuai, and Yida. Teams have also set up additional emergency operations in Juba, Awerial, and Malakal. MSF currently has 228 international staff working in its projects alongside 2,917 South Sudanese staff. 

MSF has set up a clinic in the local school in Awerial, providing basic primary healthcare to the displaced population who are mostly women and children.
South Sudan 2013 © Judy Waguma/MSF