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Attacks on staff force MSF to vacate parts of Jonglei state

By Julius N. Uma

July 31, 2010 (JUBA) - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international medical aid NGO, has suspended its activities in Gumuruk area of Jonglei State, southern Sudan, where its staff at a remote healthcare unit was attacked three times, according to a press release issued by the organization yesterday.

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MSF nurse during a meninigitis vaccination campaign (Photo by Anne Yzebe/MSF)

Apart from a small medical facility belonging to the Ministry of Health in Pibor town, home to some 150.000 people, MSF is the only primary healthcare provider in that part of Jonglei State.

The organization’s decision will deprive thousands of people from access to the much-needed medical assistance and leave the fate of over 160 malnourished children in jeopardy.

A month ago, an unknown armed group reportedly raided Gumuruk clinic, stealing boxes of a therapeutic ready-to-use food needed to treat severely malnourished children. A similar attack allegedly occurred three days later.

MSF said that four of its staffs traveling by boat from Pibor to Gumuruk were violently robbed by armed men on 27 July.

A statement released yesterday by the head of the MSF’s mission in south Sudan, Mr. Rob Mulder, said that attacks on staff left the organization “with no other choice than to suspend all medical activities in the area.”

“Attacks on our staff and clinics prevent us from providing essential medical aid. These incidents are totally unacceptable as they stop us from accessing patients and put our staff at risk,” the statement read.

The statement declared that though “we are fully committed to providing emergency medical aid to Gumuruk community, we have been “left with no other choice than to suspend all medical activities in our outreach clinic,”

MSF has hitherto been operating a primary healthcare centre in Pibor town, Jonglei State, including two smaller outreach clinics in more remote areas of Lekwongole and Gumuruk; both of which are only accessible by plane or boat during rainy seasons.

According to MSF, Gumuruk outreach clinic renders basic medical care services to a population of more than 30,000 people. These services include general consultations, treatment for malnutrition, ante-natal care and vaccinations.

Gbane Mahama, MSF’s medical coordinator for Southern Sudan, said that apart from the cases of more than 160 malnourished children receiving treatment at Gumuruk clinic, the unit receives at least 20 new child-related cases weekly.

When asked when the organization is likely to reverse its evacuation decision, Mr. Mahama told Sudan Tribune yesterday that it would entirely depend on how the area security improves.

“Unless access to this community improves, it is impossible to evacuate those who need hospitalization or surgery, including women with obstructed labour, children with cerebral malaria or severe anaemia who need blood transfusions,” Mahama pointed out.

Security in south Sudan remains fragile despite the end of civil war with the Muslim-dominated north in 2005. Clashes between rival ethnic groups are common, often fuelled by cattle rusting and natural resources.

(ST)