South Sudan: MSF Staff and Patients Forced to Flee Hospital

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN, JANUARY 31, 2014 – Insecurity in South Sudan's Unity State has forced thousands of people to flee into the bush, including patients and more than two hundred South Sudanese staff members from a hospital run by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the group said today.

A team of 30 local MSF staff members, among the 240 who fled, took several dozen of the most severely ill patients from Leer Hospital into the bush, fearing for their safety. Other patients who were well enough to leave on their own accord also fled. There are no longer any patients or staff left at Leer Hospital.

"Despite incredibly challenging circumstances, MSF local staff continued running the hospital in Leer for as long as they could," said Raphael Gorgeu, MSF head of mission. "However in the past three days, the situation became too unstable and the only way to provide medical care was to take patients out of the hospital and to flee with the population into the bush."

Twelve non-local MSF staff members were forced to evacuate Leer on January 21 due to rapidly deteriorating security. Although most of the town’s population had fled, many locally hired MSF staff chose to remain and provide lifesaving medical care in the hospital, until insecurity forced them to flee.

MSF is extremely worried for the safety and wellbeing of its staff members and patients.

"Leer Hospital was the only fully functioning hospital in southern Unity State, and now that it is no longer safe to work in this medical facility, more than 270,000 people have no access to health care," Gorgeu said.

Since the current crisis began in December, tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes in southern Unity State. This includes more than 10,000 people displaced by fighting in Bentiu who had gathered in Leer and who have now been displaced a second time. The longer the population lives out in the open without adequate food, clean water or shelter, the more vulnerable they become to disease outbreaks and malnutrition.

"Our South Sudanese colleagues have shown tremendous dedication, continuing to care for patients with only basic medical kits, cleaning and dressing wounds, treating diseases like malaria, and providing what health care they can," Gorgeu said. "Right now they have very limited medical supplies and when those run out, the situation will become even more dire for people who depend on us for health care."

MSF has been working in Leer for the past 25 years, providing outpatient and inpatient care for children and adults, surgery, maternity care, HIV and tuberculosis treatment and intensive care. MSF is ready to return to Leer to provide medical care as soon as security allows.

MSF calls on all parties to respect the integrity of medical facilities, to allow aid organizations access to affected communities, and to allow patients to receive medical treatment irrespective of their origin or ethnicity.

"In the last six weeks in South Sudan, our teams have worked in extreme conditions – we've been forced to evacuate multiple times, our facilities have been looted, and our teams have operated in areas of active conflict," said Gorgeu.

MSF has worked in the region that today constitutes the Republic of South Sudan since 1983, and currently runs projects in nine of the country's 10 states, with regular projects in Agok, Aweil, Bentiu, Gogrial, 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 is also providing medical and humanitarian aid to refugees from South Sudan in Kenya and Uganda, and will soon begin activities for refugees in Ethiopia.

In the first five weeks of the crisis, MSF has carried out 71,973 consultations (including for 27,688 children under 5), 2,710 hospitalizations (including for 1,600 children under 5), treated 1,252 war wounded patients, and assisted in 1,610 deliveries. MSF currently has 278 international staff working in its projects in South Sudan alongside 2,890 South Sudanese staff.