SOUTH SUDAN: Violence Limiting Ability to Treat People in Malakal and Lankien

Kim Clausen/MSF

JUBA—The volatile and rapidly evolving security situation in South Sudan is limiting the movement of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams and making it difficult to provide aid to those who need it most. MSF is calling on all parties to the conflict to respect medical staff and facilities, as well as the right to medical assistance.

In Malakal: On December 24, heavy fighting broke out in Malakal, Upper Nile State. For two days, the MSF team was unable to safely access Malakal State Hospital and tend 49 existing patients suffering from kala azar or treat the more than 70 war-wounded people who flooded into the hospital. Yesterday and today, the MSF team returned to the hospital despite ongoing clashes and found that 30 of the kala azar patients had fled, while 17 war-wounded people had so far been treated with pre- and post-operative care. Kala azar, also known as visceral leishmaniasis, is a fatal neglected tropical disease spread by the bite of a sandfly and is endemic in South Sudan. With treatment, the disease has a 100 percent cure rate.

“We are extremely concerned about the war-wounded who cannot safely reach us, as well as for our kala azar patients, because without treatment this disease is fatal,” said Mike White, MSF head of mission in South Sudan. “We call on all actors to respect our presence here in Malakal so that we can move safely and freely to treat patients in need of urgent medical care."

Lankien: MSF teams in Lankien and Yuai, in northern Jonglei State, have seen gunshot victims who have walked three days from Bor in search of safe access to health care. Sixty-four gunshot victims have been treated in MSF’s Lankien hospital and in Yuai over the past two days. Seven people requiring emergency surgery were evacuated by air to Nasir.

Bentiu: A specialized emergency surgical team was deployed two days ago to reinforce the existing MSF team to treat gunshot victims at Bentiu State Hospital in Unity State. This morning, the MSF team was forced to evacuate amidst rumors of impending attacks on the city.

Leer: Yesterday MSF evacuated 14 international staff from Leer Hospital, where it has been working for 25 years and has this year alone treated 64,000 malaria patients and 2,000 malnourished children. The Leer hospital continues to operate with 230 national staff members. MSF hopes to return teams to the hospital as soon as security conditions permit.

“Despite our best efforts to keep our emergency teams on the ground, the chaos and rumors of impending insecurity forced us to put the safety of our staff first,” said Chris Lockyear, MSF operational manager for South Sudan. “We hope to return as soon as possible to Bentiu and Leer with full emergency teams, but we first need all parties to respect the safety of our staff.”

Juba: MSF teams are providing medical care to approximately 40,000 people who have sought refuge in two United Nations bases following the last wave of violence. Over the past week, medical teams have carried out 1,100 consultations, treating an alarming proportion of diarrhea cases related to dire sanitary conditions in the camps.

In areas where the situation is relatively peaceful, MSF teams continue normal operations. Even prior to the latest conflict, access to healthcare was limited in South Sudan and the enormous humanitarian needs are only further exacerbated by the current crisis.

MSF reiterates its willingness to work on all sides of the conflict and its commitment to provide assistance to people in distress, irrespective of their race, religion, creed, or political affiliations. 

MSF has been working in the region that today constitutes the Republic of South Sudan since 1983. MSF is present in eight of South Sudan’s ten states and responds to many emergencies, including large-scale displacement, refugee influxes, alarming nutrition situations, and peaks of disease, such as malaria and kala azar. 

MS nurse Carmelita is looking for a vein in a young patient to install an IV. Two MSF emergency teams comprised of medics, logistics staff and water treatment specialists are running medical activities for people displaced by the recent fighting in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. An estimated 35,000 people fled to two UN compounds and to other gathering points around the city, seeking refuge from the intense fighting that erupted in Juba. After conducting an independent assessment of the needs, two MSF teams are working to address the medical needs of the displaced. "A few patients have direct violence wounds, such as gunshots, but the situation has calmed now in Juba and trauma medicine no longer seems to be the main need," says Forbes Sharp, MSF Emergency Coordinator in Juba. "The displaced people do not yet feel safe to return to their homes and they are unwilling to cross town to seek healthcare in regular hospitals and clinics. So we are taking healthcare to them."
Kim Clausen/MSF