Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) has suspended its activities in areas dominated by gangs near San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, after the medical aid organisation said one of its ambulances was attacked by an armed group, Al Jazeera reports.
An MSF coordinator said on Sunday a doctor and a medical assistant was in the ambulance when it was attacked at about 3am local time on its way to provide assistance in Reparto Las Canas, an area about seven kilometres east of San Salvador.
“For the moment, all our medical activities are suspended until we can be sure that our interventions can take place safely,” Luis Romero told the AFP news agency.
MSF said the attack occurred in the municipality of Ilopango on the eastern fringe of San Salvador, as its team was traveling by ambulance in response to an emergency call. Local media described the assailants as suspected gang members.
Members of the MSF team suffered some light injuries and bruises, but no one was seriously injured, the NGO said. Romero called on armed gangs and civil society in general to respect the activities of healthcare workers.
“We are outraged by the attack on a team of our ambulance service… We are independent, neutral and impartial. We help people in their time of greatest need. We remind you that #WeAreNotATarget”
El Salvador has reported nearly 55,000 cases of COVID-19 to date as well as more than 1,600 coronavirus-related deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The country also has one of the highest rates of violence in the world.
Tens of thousands of gang members operate in municipalities across El Salvador and extort residents, according to Human Rights Watch, while Salvadoran security forces “remain largely ineffective in protecting the population”.