Health care undermined in South Sudan

Doctors in a surgery room Doctors in a surgery room © Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

This article is a brief presentation of the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition’s Report on the health care condition in South Sudan in 2020

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition (SHCC), a group of international non-governmental organizations working to protect health workers, services and infrastructure situated in conflictual settings, provides every year  information and details about the incidents affecting health care in war-torn countries. The 2020 Report covered 17 countries. Amongst them, the document showed how 2020 sustained a rearing of cases of violence against or obstruction of health care in South Sudan. Indeed, whereas in 2019 SHCC had identified only three incidents of this nature, in 2020 it registered 18. These appalling events happened in the context of the ongoing hostilities between the National South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in-Opposition, which have been infuriating especially in Jonglei and Pibor States. The armed clashes have culminated into dire suffering for the civilian population, including health workers and facilities. As far as the research methodology is concerned, SHCC collected event-based and on-field cross-checked information, carefully verified and consolidated into a single dataset of recorded incidents. 

According to the findings of the report, the vast majority of the attacks directed against health care professionals and services was perpetrated by unnamed non-state armed groups (approximately 77 per cent). This data fits perfectly within the statement released by Len Rubenstein, Chair of SHCC, who warned of the lack of commitment of non-governmental armed groups to the duty of refraining from attacks against health care. Rubenstein substantiated this stance emphasizing how only three non-State armed groups have signed the Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment to Health Care so far, as opposed to the more than 50 non-state armed groups which signed the Deed of Commitment against the use of antipersonnel landmines and the 25 that have agreed to forgo the recruitment and deployment of child soldiers. 

Shifting to the numbers regarding the attacks against health care, the aforementioned 18 incidents reported brought about the death of 19 health workers and the injury of other eight, alongside the destruction of health care facilities and means of transport and the looting of medical, hygiene and nutritional supplies. July turned out to be the deadliest month of the whole year, with ten health workers murdered and four others wounded in three separate incidents. The following month, some not-identified combatants ambushed an ambulance, plundered the vehicle and shot the driver, who managed to keep driving and flee anyway. It goes without saying that these forms of violence undermine the protection of people’s health in conflict-torn countries, exacerbating their appalling living conditions. Indeed, the report recalls that the non-governmental organizations enduring the loss of their workers are likely to temporarily suspend their aid activities in the country, leading to a decrease of the services that can be accessed by the needy population.

For these reasons, it is pivotal for all the parties to the conflict to respect the International Humanitarian Law provisions establishing a general prohibition of directing military attacks against health care personnel and facilities. In order to achieve this goal, the report underscores how coding the perpetrators and the context of these atrocities can finally inspire the development and the implementation of preventive strategies intended to pull a plug on this dismaying phenomenon. 




Author: Gianpaolo Mascaro; Editor: Jasmina Saric

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