Medical care in South Sudan has come under heavy fire since fighting broke out in December, with patients shot in hospital beds, wards burned to the ground, medical equipment looted, even an entire hospital destroyed, international medical group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Wednesday.
"What we have seen in the last weeks is that MSF facilities, MSF staff and the patients, of course, have experienced unacceptable attacks, looting and intimidation, and we consider today that medical care is under fire in South Sudan," Raphael Gorgeu, MSF head of mission in the young country, told reporters.
Gorgeu recounted how MSF personnel found a grisly scene when they returned to a hospital in Malakal, which they had evacuated when fighting resumed in the capital of Upper Nile state last week.
"On February 22, we went back inside the town in Malakal and our team discovered in Malakal Teaching Hospital at least 14 dead bodies scattered among 50 to 75 patients who remained in this facility, too weak or elderly to flee for safety," Gorgeu said.
"Several of these patients showed signs they had been shot dead while lying in their beds. Many of the hospital wards, including the therapeutic feeding center for malnourished children, had been burned, and general looting has clearly taken place," he said.
Hospital in Leer 'no longer exists'
A hospital in Leer County in Unity state, which has provided health care for 300,000 people in the area since it opened 25 years ago and treated thousands of children for malnutrition, was ransacked and destroyed, Sarah Maynard, MSF project coordinator for Leer, said.
"That hospital no longer exists," Maynard told the news conference in Juba.
"The operating theaters are destroyed. The emergency room is gutted by fire. The tents where we stored therapeutic food for malnourished children is also destroyed. Drugs have been completely looted," she said.
Some 240 local MSF staff who worked at Leer Hospital "remain hidden in the bush, struggling to treat patients with rapidly dwindling supplies," MSF said on its website.
"The staff report they are reusing wound dressings and trying desperately to assist the displaced who have grown more ill from drinking dirty river water and from eating water lilies for lack of food," the medical aid group said.
Gorgeu said that resuming work in Leer will "not only require significant investment of resources, but it will depend upon on unconditional respect from all parties for our medical facilities, staff and patients, not only in southern Unity State but everywhere in the country."
MSF reported on its website that patients were killed in their beds in a hospital in Bor during fighting in December; MSF staff were forced to flee a hospital in Bentiu, capital of Unity state, as fighting raged there last month, and the medical aid group suspended operations in Malakal after armed men threatened and robbed staff.
A spokesman for the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), Philip Aguer, said the army had anything to do with the attacks on the health facilities.
"The SPLA forces have been respecting the humanitarian agencies. We have not looted any compounds," he said.
The anti-government forces did not immediately respond to VOA's requests for comment but spokesman Lul Ruai Koang has denied in the past that opposition fighters have attacked health facilities or targeted civilians.