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South Sudan: Patients die after fighting forces medical staff to evacuate

Hospitals are meant to be refuges of safety and recovery, yet tragically 13 patients died in South Sudan last week after heavy fighting forced the evacuation of an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) surgical team.

Thursday July 16, 2015

An ICRC doctors at treats a small child at Kodok hospital, South Sudan. Healthcare staff - including the ICRC surgical team - were forced to evacuate the hospital last week following heaving fighting in the area. Photo: ICRC/Pawel Krzysiek

Two people were killed in the crossfire, which also damaged and forced the evacuation of the hospital in the northern town of Kodok. Without access to crucial surgical expertise, another 11 patients died in the following days. Forty people have since arrived at the hospital in need of medical care, mostly for wounds sustained in the fighting.  

Konrad Bark, an ICRC delegate who had been working in Kodok, said that both international and national healthcare staff had been forced to leave the hospital, even as the number of patients was rising as a result of the fighting.

"And so the hospital is virtually empty of any qualified personnel to provide quality care at a time when it is most needed," Bark said. "Very sadly, the situation has gone from bad to worse as a result of this incident."   

Jessica Hazelwood, who works in the international humanitarian law team at Australian Red Cross, had seen first-hand the importance of the Kodok hospital during her nursing tenure with an ICRC surgical team. She explained that the facility is a vital one, serving a community of tens of thousands of people.  

"The impact of this fighting would extend beyond last week's tragic deaths," she said. "It will deny thousands of people access to health care when they most need it."  

On a number of occasions and in many towns and villages across South Sudan, healthcare facilities have been damaged, and health workers and patients have injured or killed.  

A consequence of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, this ultimately underlines the dangers health care workers face, and the need to reinforce the need to protect the medical mission.

Red Cross continues to remind all warring parties of the precautions that must be taken in the conduct of military operations to avoid and minimize loss of civilian life, injury and damage to civilian structures.   

The ICRC has reiterated the warring parties' obligation to respect international humanitarian law and protect medical personnel and facilities.    

Video: ICRC delegate Konrad Bark describes the situation in Kodok