LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Armed men have killed at least 58 people at hospitals in South Sudan in the last six months, often shooting patients in their beds, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said on Tuesday.
Hospitals in the world's newest country have been ransacked or set ablaze in at least six attacks, leaving hundreds of thousands of people cut off from healthcare, MSF said.
Ambulances, hospital equipment, medicines and beds have been destroyed or stolen. Attackers have also killed health ministry staff.
"The conflict has at times seen horrific levels of violence," said MSF head of mission Raphael Gorgeu. "Patients have been shot in their beds, and lifesaving medical facilities have been burned and destroyed. These attacks have far-reaching consequences for hundreds of thousands of people who are cut off from medical care."
Details of the attacks are outlined in an MSF report which calls for greater measures to ensure safe access to healthcare in South Sudan, where ethnic-fuelled violence threatens to tear apart a nation that only gained independence from Sudan in 2011.
MSF, which has over 3,600 staff running 22 projects in the country, said hospitals have been ransacked in the towns of Bor, Malakal, Bentiu, Nasir and Leer.
Probably the worst affected is Leer Hospital in Unity state which was destroyed early this year, along with equipment for surgery, the storage of vaccines and blood transfusions. It was the only secondary healthcare facility for approximately 270,000 people.
"Unfortunately, because of this crisis we lost track of many of our patients, some of whom may have died if they could not access ongoing treatment," said MSF medical coordinator Muhammed Shoaib. "Now, we are back and treating some patients, but can only offer a fraction of our previous services. There are no options at all for surgery in the whole of southern Unity state, for example."
In February, armed groups shot dead 11 patients in their beds at Malakal Teaching Hospital in Upper Nile state. Survivors of the carnage told how gunmen shot patients who had no money or mobile phones to hand over.
The attack came after 14 patients were shot dead at Bor State Hospital in Jonglei state in December. In April, attackers killed at least 27 people at Bentiu State Hospital who had sought shelter there after fleeing fighting.
MSF said its figures only represented what it knew about incidents in areas where it had current or past operations.