Only one doctor is left working in rebel controlled Nuba Mountains

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 05 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f759
  1. Peter Moszynski
  1. 1Gidel, Sudan

International concern is growing about a mounting humanitarian disaster along Sudan’s border with South Sudan, where nearly a million people are effectively cut off from access to aid.

Tom Catena, currently the only doctor working in the rebel controlled Nuba Mountains, at the Mother of Mercy hospital in Gidel, has had to perform over 100 amputations on patients wounded in air raids.

“These Antonov wounds tend to be very severe,” he told the BMJ, referring to the type of aircraft used by the Sudanese government to bomb its own people. “They cause loss of limbs, loss of life, and very deep penetrating wounds that cause massive traumas.”

As well as the traumatic injuries caused by direct bombardment, there has been a large increase in cases of malnutrition, he said, adding that “malnourishment significantly worsens all other conditions and severely impacts on the patients’ ability to recover.”

Catena, aged 48, who is originally from upstate New York, has been working at the hospital, run by the local Catholic diocese, for the past five years. He insisted on staying when war returned to the area in June 2011 and the rest of the international staff was evacuated. He described how he was ordered to leave by his recruiters at the Catholic Medical Mission Board, but he told them that because he was an unpaid volunteer they had no means of sanctioning him, and he insisted on continuing in post.

Over 200 000 people have now fled the war zones to camps in South Sudan, where relief workers are struggling to cope with epidemics of hepatitis E and other infectious diseases, while hundreds of thousands more people have been internally displaced, often sheltering in rocks and caves to avoid the bombardments.

Some 300 people a day are currently crossing from the Nuba Mountains to Yida refugee camp in South Sudan, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees has reported. The BMJ saw mothers with young families arriving at the border, too weak to proceed further, having run out of food several days earlier.

Calling for immediate access to aid and an inquiry into allegations of ongoing crimes against humanity, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, told the UK human rights organisation the Aegis Trust, “Very large numbers of civilians across the troubled borderlands of this vast country continue to be terrorised by systematic bombing from the sky.”1

Kapila described how he “witnessed the 21st century’s first genocide in Darfur during my time as UN chief in Sudan in 2003-4. Returning to Sudan a decade later, I saw the same tactics of systematic ethnic cleansing in full play in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.”

Catena believes that denying lifesaving aid and medical assistance to civilians and non-combatants constitutes a war crime and that by failing to ensure humanitarian access the international community was actually “complicit in the Khartoum government’s programme to annihilate the people here.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f759


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