Women and children among those critically injured in recent intercommunal clashes
JUBA/NEW YORK, March 17, 2020—Waves of intercommunal clashes in South Sudan’s Jonglei State and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area are taking a devastating toll on the region's population, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on Tuesday. MSF medical teams received a massive influx of 83 wounded patients in the towns of Pieri and Lankien between March 9 and 13 and have treated 45 people for gunshot wounds in Pibor over the past month.
“In Pieri, we received 68 wounded people in less than 12 hours,” said Istifanus Chindong Damulak, MSF medical team leader. “It was a massive influx of critical patients with serious gunshot and stab wounds. In Lankien, we treated a woman who was seven months pregnant and had lost her baby after her abdomen and groin were slashed with a blade and a 10-year-old girl who was stabbed several times.”
Access to healthcare in the area remains a considerable challenge, and many people have to walk long distances—sometimes for several days—to reach medical facilities. As a result, many people arrived in critical condition with sepsis from infected gunshot wounds. MSF medical teams were able to manage most critical cases in the primary healthcare center in Pieri and the hospital in Lankien. Patients with the most severe injuries were taken by plane to the MSF hospital in the United Nations Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Bentiu, where they underwent surgery.
“We are very worried about the extreme level of violence that some of the patients have been subjected to,” said Claudio Miglietta, MSF head of mission in South Sudan. “Violence and its consequences require initially a medical response to address the trauma. But this is not just a matter of providing medical care, it is also a protection concern, with some of the most vulnerable, including young children and pregnant women, being targeted.”
As a result of the intercommunal clashes, thousands of people were recently forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in remote rural areas or inside a makeshift camp adjacent to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in Pibor town, where MSF has set up an emergency response. In addition to tending to the injured, MSF continues to provide care to pregnant women and address illnesses like malaria, diarrhea, and respiratory infections. MSF has also vaccinated over 3,500 children against measles to prevent a potential outbreak. Living conditions in the UNMISS site are dismal with extremely limited access to clean water, latrines, food, and adequate shelter.
“The violent clashes have significantly reduced access to healthcare for the many thousands of people who have fled to the bush,” said Roderick Embuido, MSF medical coordinator in South Sudan. “For the ones who sought shelter in the site adjacent to UNMISS and who are now crammed together in a closely confined space, the risk of outbreaks is worryingly high. The prolonged shortage of clean water is making the situation even worse. The needs are extremely high, and our capacity to address them is being stretched to its limits.”