It is with great sadness that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) confirms that a South Sudanese member of 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 north-eastern South Sudan where MSF runs a primary healthcare centre.
“We express our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of our staff and all those affected. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the outrageous acts of intercommunal violence that has left dozens of people seriously wounded, and we fear many more dead,” said Steve MacKay, MSF Deputy Head of Mission in South Sudan.
Fighting erupted in the area around Pieri in the early morning of Saturday, 16 May. At the time, one patient and three MSF staff were at healthcare centre. As fighting broke out, the population fled to the surrounding bush and to nearby villages. Among them were several members of our staff that work in Pieri. Hostilities continued until Sunday afternoon, 17 May. By then, some villages in the surrounding area had been burned and homes in Pieri were looted.
Over 50 wounded people, including two MSF staff members were brought to the MSF hospital in Lankien, approximately 50 kilometres north of Pieri, where they are now receiving treatment. “We have reasons to believe that the number of people wounded is very high,” said MacKay. “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 live-saving 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 centre 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,” said MacKay. “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,” concluded MacKay.
As a result of this act of violence, MSF has been forced to suspend medical activities in Pieri until we receive reassurances for the safety of our staff. MSF remains committed to continue delivering lifesaving medical assistance to the people of Pieri and Jonglei State.