South Sudan: Insecurity in Leer has devastating consequences for those hiding in the bush

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Juba, 11 February 2014 - The deteriorating security situation in Leer and surrounding areas of southern Unity State in South Sudan is having devastating consequences for thousands of people who are hiding in the bush, the international medical humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

Security worsens every day
Just under two weeks ago, 240 MSF local staff left Leer Hospital, fleeing into the bush with several dozen of the most severely injured patients and thousands of local people. The security situation is worsening every day, living conditions are life-threatening and MSF has now lost contact with two-thirds of its staff.

“Many people from Leer are here – the community are hungry, food and water are a problem for everyone – people are drinking water from a dirty river. We hide during the day, it is safer for us to move around at night,” explains one MSF staff member* who is currently hiding in the bush outside Leer.

Chaotic and hostile
“The situation on the ground is chaotic and hostile and it is very difficult to know where the civilians have fled to from Leer,” says Raphael Gorgeu, MSF’s South Sudan Head of Mission. “The sporadic contact we are able to make with our staff paints a desperate picture for them and the unknown thousands living in terrible conditions, vulnerable to disease, dehydration, malnutrition and attack.”

MSF staff are continuing to care for patients as best they can, but medicines are running out. Fifteen surgical cases are still being cared for by the staff but they can no longer change their surgical dressings due to supply shortages.

Pushed further into the bush
“The staff who remain in touch with MSF report that worsening security has pushed them further into the bush. They have split into smaller groups to decrease the chance of attack and divided their supplies of medicines, which they are saving to treat only the most life-threatening cases,” explains Gorgeu.

One team is reportedly treating at least 45 critically ill patients each day. The most common conditions are watery diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections and malaria – conditions that are directly related to the dire living conditions and lack of shelter and mosquito nets. Staff have also reported alarming cases of sexual violence.

Too dangerous to re-supply staff with medicines
“It is heartbreaking speaking to our staff, hearing their own precarious situation and that their supplies are running out when the little healthcare they are providing is all that is available in southern Unity State,” says Gorgeu. “We need access to civilians in the area and to resupply our staff with medicines, but it is simply too dangerous given the ongoing fighting. We don’t know how much longer they can hold out.”

MSF has been working in Leer for the past 25 years, providing outpatient and inpatient care for children and adults, surgery, maternity, HIV/TB treatment, and intensive care. The last of the MSF staff left Leer Hospital on January 30th and MSF has no further information on the state of the hospital, which was the only fully functioning secondary facility in all of southern Unity State serving 270,000 people. MSF is ready to fully return to Leer and southern Unity State to provide medical care as soon as security allows.

*This staff member is being kept anonymous for safety reasons.