Wednesday 20 November 2019

Turning back the tide in a forgotten war

Dublin doctor Niamh Allen with MSF in South Sudan
Dublin doctor Niamh Allen with MSF in South Sudan

Niamh Allen

Thousands of new arrivals have come here in the last two weeks looking for shelter and food and water security, as a result of the recent escalation of conflict which is affecting many parts of South Sudan.

We are treating people wounded in recent fighting; clashes that prevented us from working last week and still prevent us from entering the town of Malakal itself.

The situation has been tense, with many hours spent in the bunker in the boiling heat, surrounded by sandbags, listening to shooting and shelling close enough to see the red heat of the bullets flying through the air. Other hours have been spent suturing wounds.

I am working with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF )in a 'Protection Of Civilians' site outside the town of Malakal, Upper Nile State where about 30,000 people displaced by civil war are living.

The South Sudanese Civil War is an ongoing conflict in South Sudan between forces of the government and opposition groups.


Our base is just a few tents which we sleep in like dorms. The living space in the middle has a tin roof that accentuates the intense heat.

The whole camp is basically tents and porta-cabins; a plastic world only 10 minutes drive from a relatively well-constructed city, which is now empty and partly shelled to the ground.

One of our patients was only 10 months old when he died. He was being treated for severe dehydration from diarrhoea.

It was such a reminder that the people who suffer from war are not just the injured, but also those who cannot access health care because of conflict.

His mother stayed in the bed her son had occupied, waiting for the situation to be safe enough outside the camp for her to return to her village.

The widespread fighting in South Sudan is exposing civilians to violence and severely restricting the provision of desperately needed aid. Conflict has led to medical services being suspended, health structures being destroyed and medical staff having to be evacuated.

MSF is one of the largest medical and humanitarian aid providers in South Sudan with more than 3,500 staff across the country, as well as projects in Ethiopia and Uganda serving refugees from South Sudan.


At present, MSF operates projects in six of the 10 states of South Sudan, including in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei, where the conflict has taken a particularly heavy toll on the population.

MSF appeals to all parties to respect medical facilities, to allow aid organisations access to affected communities and to allow patients to receive medical treatment, irrespective of their origin or ethnicity.

Niamh Allen is a doctor from Blackrock, Co Dublin, working in South Sudan with Medicins Sans Frontieres

Irish Independent

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