By Mark Ellis
Akot Medical Mission, which operates a 48-bed hospital in the geographic heart of South Sudan, evacuated their medical facility this week due to rising threats to their staff.
“As regrettable as this was, it was necessary due to lawlessness in the area,” says Bill Deans, president of Akot. “We made the difficult decision to evacuate all of our expatriate staff and temporarily cease operations until the dangerous situation which exists in South Sudan is resolved,” he says.
After a failed coup attempt which took place in Juba, the capital, on December 15, the conflict grew as rebels have attempted to take control of key cities. The closest fighting to the Akot Medical Mission took place in Bor, about 100 miles to the east.
But over the past few weeks the threat level changed dramatically. “One of our partner organizations had staff members beaten and threatened, forcing them to evacuate and put their operations on hold. Then, last Friday night armed men cut through our security fence, entered the compound, pointed weapons at the staff while attempting to steal vital equipment,” Deans says.
With help from African Inland Mission Air they coordinated an exit strategy. “This morning (Feb. 28), an AIM plane landed at dawn to effect this action. Moments ago I received word that all are now safe in neighboring Kenya,” Deans reports.
Ministry in South Sudan has always carried a degree of risk. “On several occasions, our staff has been stopped by armed bandits, even fired upon. Several months ago army troops committed what is best described as extortion when they seized one of our missionaries and a vehicle, demanding money for his release and the return of the vehicle.”
The medical needs in the area where they served remain high. Akot had 36,000 medical visits in 2013. Half
were for immunization and feeding programs, but the rest were for significant health conditions. “The needs there are tremendous,” Deans says. “The people are desperate for medical care.”
While their facility has 48 beds, it is not unusual for there to be as many as 130 in residence, with people sleeping on the floor. “During malaria season we get overwhelmed,” he notes.
“It is our hope and prayer that it will prove to be a temporary move and the dangerous conditions which forced it can and will be resolved in the near future. Please earnestly pray with us for calm and stability in South Sudan.”