Violence In South Sudan Targets Hospitals

Doctors Without Borders says patients have been shot, medical supplies looted and a hospital destroyed. David Greene talks to Sarah Maynard, a program director for the group, about the violence.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene. South Sudan gained its independence in 2011 after years of war with northern Sudan. But ethnic fighting broke out within this young country in December and it hasn't stopped. Thousands of people have been killed and now this new turn - hospitals have become targets.

Doctors without Borders, the international organization that works in some of the world's most desperate places, has been in hospitals where patients appear to have been shot in their beds. Joining us now from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, is Sarah Maynard. She's a project coordinator for Doctors without Borders. Sarah, good morning.

SARAH MAYNARD, BYLINE: Good morning, David. Thanks for having me on the show.

GREENE: Thanks for coming on. We appreciate the time. Can you give me a sense of the scene? You were doing some work in the town of Leer, a hospital there. What did you witness?

MAYNARD: Well, the hospital in Leer has been there for 25 years. Doctors Without Borders has been working there for a long time. It was a really busy place. For example, in 2013 we did 68,000 medical consultations. We had an operating theater, so almost 400 operations last year. But unfortunately when we visited earlier this month we found that the hospital has been completely destroyed.

GREENE: What did you find, exactly? I mean what did you see?

MAYNARD: Well, the hospital basically no longer exists. It was awful to see. The operating theaters were destroyed. One of them was completely burned. The emergency room was gutted. The place where we used to store our therapeutic food for the malnourished children was completely burned down. The drugs had been looted throughout the hospital.

There was medical supplies sort of strewn all over the floor, scattered around the compound. And all of the hospital beds are gone. Essentially it's been put into this awful, unusable condition and we're really worried about what that means for our patients and for the people of Leer.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you about those patients who were being treated there. Do you know what happened to them?

MAYNARD: Well, the entire population of the town, which is around 20,000 people, and the surrounding areas have fled into the bush. We have some sporadic contact with some of our staff. We had a huge team of 240 local staff, and we've been trying to keep contact with them. They fled into the bush with the population of the town and they're trying to do the best they can with some of the medical supplies they took with them.

But the living conditions are really life-threatening in the bush. They're telling us that they have hardly any food. They're eating water lilies, for example. They're drinking dirty water out of the rivers. They have no mosquito nets to protect them from malaria and it's really a terrible situation. And also with the insecurity in the area, they're telling us that they don't feel safe to move around during the day, and it must be terrifying for them. And we really - we're really proud of what our local staff is still managing to do but we're trying to find every avenue we can to resupply them with drugs and materials. But it's very difficult at the moment.

GREENE: Do you know who - which side in this conflict was responsible for this violence that you're describing?

MAYNARD: We don't know. The last of our staff left at the end of January and when they fled, the hospital was still intact, but we haven't had anyone on the ground to be able to say who's responsible. I mean the only thing I can say is that whoever did this, they knew what they were doing.

I mean everybody knows what a hospital is and I think people would understand the consequences for the people who depend on the hospital and what that means for the people who now have hardly any access to healthcare.

GREENE: We've been speaking to Sarah Maynard. She's a project coordinator for Doctors Without Borders and she joined us from Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Sarah, thanks very much for talking to us.

MAYNARD: Thank you very much.

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