A Colleague Lost, and the Unknown Devastation of Attacks on Health Care
By Margarite Nathe, IntraHealth International
This blog was originally published in the Huffington Post.
We know very little about what happened to our dear colleague Sister Veronika Rackova, a physician and Catholic nun who was loved by her community in Yei, South Sudan.
We know she was driving the St. Bakhita Medical Centre’s ambulance on May 16. We know she was on her way back from the neighboring Harvester’s Health Centre, to which she had rushed a pregnant woman in the midst of a medical emergency. And we know it was late at night, about 1am.
Most people in the region know the roads aren’t safe at that hour. Checkpoints that may be benign in the daylight grow more and more volatile as the night goes on and the soldiers manning them get rowdier or drunker. People get hurt. But of course, medical emergencies are not restricted to safe hours or safe places.
We know that someone shot at Sister Veronika’s ambulance, and that she was hit in the stomach. We know she was evacuated from Yei to a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.
And we know that four days later, she died.
But so many details are still missing. Who shot her? Was it one of the four members of the security forces now in custody? But why? Was it because she was driving an ambulance or was that just a coincidence?
And what will become of the many people who relied on Sister Veronika’s care?
Health care under attack
Sister Veronika was one of more than a thousand people killed in the last 15 months as a result of attacks on health care. According to the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition’s new report, No Protection, No Respect: Health Workers and Health Facilities Under Attack, 19 countries have seen continuous assaults on ambulances, frontline health workers, patients, and health facilities.
Hospitals are being looted, burned, and bombed. Ambulances are being attacked. Infants in incubators are dying as hospital generators are destroyed or run out of fuel.
Like many of the other 18 countries in the report, South Sudan is in the midst terrible violence and warfare, which the United Nations estimates have killed at least 50,000 people there since the fighting began in 2013 (and among those, Sister Veronika was the fifty-fourth aid worker killed). Both sides of the conflict have taken to obstructing access to medical facilities, stealing medical supplies, and kidnapping or murdering health and humanitarian workers.
Trevor Snapp for IntraHealth International
A nurse at the Saint Bakhita Health Centre in Yei discusses family planning and HIV counseling and testing with clients before their routine antenatal visits. IntraHealth has worked with the health center since 2007 to train and support Sister Veronika’s staff of health workers.