JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN/BRUSSELS— Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) strongly condemns the looting of its medical center in Pibor, in South Sudan’s Jonglei State, during and after heavy fighting from February 23 to 25 that also destroyed large sections of the town, leaving thousands of people in need of aid.
As fighting consumed Pibor on February 23, the MSF team was at risk of being caught in the crossfire as heavy gunfire approached the MSF compound. The team moved to a UNMISS (UN Mission in South Sudan) compound where they supported treatment of 36 wounded patients.
One patient, a child with a gunshot wound to the abdomen, died. The medical team is now operating a medical clinic in the UNMISS compound where more than 2,000 displaced people, mostly children, are continuing to take shelter with far too little access to water and sanitation and only limited access to food. Currently, the MSF team is treating 140 patients per day in the UNMISS site. Almost two-thirds of MSF’s patients are children under five years old, suffering from malaria, respiratory tract infections, and diarrhea.
During the looting, medical supplies, therapeutic food for malnourished children and even patients’ beds were stolen from the MSF medical center. Bullet casings were found throughout the compound and the few items that were not stolen, such as IV bags, lifesaving drugs and medical documents, were damaged and strewn throughout the compound with no regard for the urgent medical needs of the population.
"This is a blatant and outrageous attack on lifesaving medical care," said Corinne Benazech, MSF head of mission in South Sudan. "Pregnant women, children, and other vulnerable people will suffer as a result of this looting, as this was the only functioning health center in the entire region."
The MSF medical center was also the hub from which MSF ran its medical services in nearby Gumuruk and Lekwongole. Cumulatively, these projects served an area with approximately 170,000 people.
As a result of the looting, MSF’s ability to provide medical assistance in all three locations has been significantly reduced, and local people are at significant risk of avoidable diseases and deaths. The MSF team is working to resume a short-term emergency response in the looted health center in Pibor, and MSF’s outreach medical activities in Gumuruk and Lekwongole are more difficult to maintain.
Throughout the town of Pibor, many homes and shelters have been burned, looted or destroyed, and the market is completely empty. Thousands of people have also fled to the bush, where there is no access to medical care whatsoever. This week, MSF completed an assessment mission to Verthet, where teams stabilized three patients with gunshot wounds and encountered significant unmet health needs.
"The humanitarian situation in the Pibor area is critical right now," said Benazech. "With homes burned and possessions looted, the people coming back to Pibor town will face a grim rainy season. A major humanitarian response is needed now, but there need to be assurances from all armed parties that humanitarian access will be facilitated and humanitarian assets will not be looted."
MSF provides medical care neutrally and impartially to whoever needs it most, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or political affiliation. MSF is providing medical assistance to over 800,000 patients per year in South Sudan.
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