Cannibalism, Mutilations Haunt South Sudan’s Mentally Ill

  • War-torn nation has chronic shortage of mental health services
  • Amnesty International urges treatment, other reparations

South Sudanese who were forced to eat human flesh and disembowel the dead during two years of civil war are among thousands of people affected by the nation’s chronic shortage of mental-health care services, Amnesty International said.

The country, which has just two practicing psychiatrists for 11 million people, is seeing the psychological impact of mass killings, rape, torture and abductions, with the lack of services resulting in cases of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, the London-based rights group said Wednesday in a report. Mental health patients are often housed in prisons rather than receiving care and treatment, Amnesty said.

“While the death and physical destruction caused by the conflict and preceding decades of war are immediately apparent, the psychological scars are less visible and neglected,” Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said in a statement. The phone of Health Minister Riek Gai Kok didn’t connect when Bloomberg called seeking comment.

Oil-producing South Sudan descended into a conflict in December 2013 that has left tens of thousands of people dead and forced 2 million others to flee their homes. While the main rebel group signed a peace deal and returned to the capital in April to join a transitional government, violence has continued, including in the northwestern town of Wau, where more than 40 people were killed and 70,000 displaced in late June.

‘Urgent Steps’

Ending atrocities would be an “obvious urgent first step” to preventing further mental health issues, but “action also must be taken to heal the damage already done, by providing victims with treatment and other appropriate reparations,” Wanyeki said.

South Sudan is also facing a severe food shortage as a lengthy dry season and depleted stocks spur the worst hunger since the war began. As many as 4.8 million people could suffer the effects of “an unusually long and harsh annual lean season” before harvests expected to begin in August, the United Nations said last month.

MAP: South Sudan
MAP: South Sudan
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