South Sudan: MSF staff member killed, dozens wounded during renewed violence in Pieri

South Sudan 2014 © Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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NEW YORK/JUBA, MAY 19, 2020—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) confirmed today that one of its staff was killed and two more were injured during intense fighting that erupted over the weekend in and around Pieri, a town in Jonglei State in northeastern South Sudan where MSF runs a primary healthcare center.

“We express our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of our staff, and all those affected,” said Steve MacKay, MSF deputy head of mission in South Sudan. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the outrageous act of intercommunal violence that has left dozens of people seriously wounded, and we fear many more dead.”

Fighting erupted in the area around Pieri in the early morning of Saturday, May 16. At the time, one patient and three MSF staff were at the healthcare center. As fighting broke out, people fled to the surrounding bush and nearby villages. Among them were several members of MSF's staff who work in Pieri. Hostilities continued until the afternoon of Sunday, May 17. By then, some villages in the surrounding area had been burned and homes in the area were looted.

More than 50 wounded people, including two MSF staff members, were brought to the MSF hospital in Lankien—approximately 50 kilometers [31 miles] north of Pieri—where they are now receiving treatment.

“We have reasons to believe that the number of people wounded is very high,” MacKay said. “So far, we have received 56 people with gunshot wounds, but we fear that many more could be dead and over 100 wounded in and around Pieri. Our team is very concerned that other wounded people will not be able to access lifesaving medical care due to limited access to medical services in the area.”

In the past months in Jonglei State, violence has erupted several times. Just two months ago, in mid-March, the MSF healthcare center in Pieri received 68 wounded people in less than 12 hours, many of them in critical conditions.

“The recurring episodes of intercommunal violence continue to have devastating consequences for the population,” MacKay said. “We have seen many times that this kind of attack can cause the displacement and loss of livelihoods for hundreds or even thousands of people. Now that the rainy season is starting, those without a proper shelter are even more exposed to diseases like malaria, respiratory tract infections, and acute watery diarrhea that kill thousands every year. All this without taking into account the added complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic which has started to spread across the country.”

As a result of this act of violence, MSF has been forced to suspend medical activities in Pieri until it receives reassurances for the safety of its staff. MSF remains committed to continue delivering lifesaving medical assistance to the people of Pieri and Jonglei State.