INTERVIEW: Doctors concerned for South Sudanese hiding in the bush
By Shabtai Gold Jan 3, 2012, 18:18 GMT
Johannesburg/Juba - Ongoing inter-ethnic clashes in South Sudan have directly hit the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a senior regional staff member told German Press Agency dpa.
Two of its clinics in the volatile Jonglei State have been overrun by fighters, and more than 150 of its staff were forced to flee into the bush. The group has only been able to contact about 20 of the staff and has no information on the remaining workers.
The MSF health workers joined many thousands of civilians from Pibor town, home to the Murle ethnic group, who fled a weekend attack by thousands of heavily armed warriors from the rival Lou Nuer group. Cattle raids are at the heart of the dispute.
'Thousands of civilians have fled to the bush and they are in need of medical and humanitarian aid. We are worried and frustrated that we cannot go and deliver this aid,' Jean-Marc Jacobs, the deputy director of MSF in South Sudan, told dpa by telephone from Juba.
'Our clinics in the area are damaged and looted and unusable,' he added.
'People fled to bush, but we don't know where they are and the situation is very tense. We can't send a team to look for people when we have no guarantees for the security of our team,' Jacobs said.
The medical charity says it is worried that, the longer civilians remain hidden in the bush, the more serious it will become for people who are injured or sick.
'MSF is only the provider of health services in the area. Now that our clinics are not functioning, no health care is being provided for normal day to day diseases, and for the possible wounded from the fighting,' said Jacobs.
'When you imagine people now living in the bush, they are living with very few items. For example, they are not sleeping under bed nets,' Jacobs explained. Bed nets are crucial to prevent the spread of malaria, which is usually contracted through mosquito bites.
MSF also provides care for tuberculosis, another contagious disease, and was operating projects for pregnant women, as maternal mortality in South Sudan is very high. These programmes are now suspended.
'We are concerned about everyone with diseases, as we should be able to offer treatment to them,' said Jacobs. He has worked for the charity for more than six years, providing humanitarian aid in several countries.
He said it was hard to know how long the current situation would persist, expressing concern for those in need.
'The longer it lasts the more fragile the population in the bush will be. We want to get back to the area as soon as possible,' Jacobs said.
'Hopefully the next news we have is that we are able get back in,' he added.