Medical charity to close maternity ward in Kabul after deadly attack


International medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is closing its maternity ward in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, after last month’s deadly gun attack killed many people, including newborns.

The assault resulted in the death of twenty-four women, children and babies when gunmen entered the facility and opened fire on May 12. So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

MSF said it had taken the decision “with the understanding” that the victims were deliberately targeted.

On Monday, MSF said in a statement that while no information had emerged about the perpetrators or motive of the assault on the at the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital, “mothers, babies and health staff were its deliberate target and similar attacks may repeat in the future”.

MSF Director General Thierry Allafort-Duverger said that while he was aware that the agency’s presence carried risks, “we just couldn’t believe that someone would take advantage of the absolute vulnerability of women about to give birth to exterminate them and their babies”.

MSF described the move as “necessary but painful”.

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s health ministry, Akmal Samsor, said the decision to close the maternity ward was a serious blow, and the ministry hoped MSF would reconsider.

The attack unfolded when locals describe hearing two blasts then gunfire at about 10:00 (05:30 GMT) on Tuesday, May 12.

About 140 people were in the hospital at the time, one doctor who escaped told the BBC. Some of those working there were foreigners.

Three gunmen moved through the 55-bed maternity unit, which has been run by MSF since 2014.

A total of 26 mothers and mothers-to-be were inside at the time. Ten managed to flee to safe rooms; the other 16 were unable to do so.

Three of the 16 mothers were shot and killed in the delivery room, along with their unborn babies.

Afghan special forces rescued 100 women and children, including three foreigners.

The three attackers, who had reportedly gained access dressed as police officers, started a gun battle with Afghan security forces that went on for four hours. All three of the gunmen were eventually killed by security personnel.

Images from the scene showed soldiers carrying newborn babies swaddled in blood-stained blankets to safety. (Source: BBC)