Juba - Warring fighters in South Sudan have looted hospitals and murdered patients in their beds, cutting life-saving healthcare to hundreds of thousands of people, Doctors Without Borders said on Wednesday.
Warning of an "alarming pattern of lootings and attacks on patients" and health facilities, Doctors without Borders (MSF, Medecins sans Frontieres) said their crucial work was being strangled by a "climate of utter disrespect and fear."
Thousands have been killed and almost 900 000 forced from their homes by over two months of battles between rebel and government forces, backed by troops from neighbouring Uganda.
Medical care has "come under fire, with patients shot in their beds, wards burned to the ground, medical equipment looted, and, in one case, an entire hospital destroyed," MSF said in a statement.
"Assaults on medical facilities and patients are part of a broader backdrop of brutal attacks on towns, markets and public facilities," said Raphael Gorgeu, MSF head of mission in the war-torn nation.
"These attacks show a complete lack of respect for medical care and deprive the most vulnerable of life-saving assistance just when they need it most."
Atrocities have been committed by both sides, whether in the initial clashes that marked the start of the conflict in the capital Juba on 15 December, or during repeated battles for strategic towns across the impoverished but oil-rich nation.
Recent heavy battles between rebels and government troops have been over the key northern oil hub of Malakal, which has exchanged hands several times between the warring sides.
"Malakal is deserted, with houses burned throughout and countless dead bodies strewn in the streets... I can find no words to describe the brutality," said Carlos Francisco, MSF's emergency coordinator in the town.
In the flashpoint region of Leer, hometown of rebel chief Riek Machar, in the south of the key oil producing Unity state, MSF's hospital was razed to the ground.
"The destruction from fire was unbelievable... the fridges where we used to keep the vaccines cold were just melted white blobs," Maynard said after returning to Leer to assess the damage.
"Now nearly 300 000 people have no access to a hospital, nor any general healthcare....there's nothing left in the hospital that is useable."