NAIROBI, KENYA, JANUARY 11, 2013—The medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is providing psychological and medical support to traumatized survivors of conflict in the Tana Delta region of Kenya's Coast Province.
Beginning in August 2012, a series of violent clashes have killed and wounded hundreds of people and driven more than 2,500 families from their homes. Health facilities have also been vandalized. The extreme violence and fear of further conflict is damaging the physical and mental health of the population.
"Women are the most affected as they are haunted by memories of their children being burned alive. Others fear being separated from their children, or having to deal with displacement and homelessness," said MSF nurse and counselor Elizabeth Olela. "For example, one of my patients told me how she was unable to escape with all her children. When she went back for her two-year-old son, she watched in utter helplessness as people set him alight."
Since September 2012, MSF has been carrying out both individual and group therapy sessions for survivors of the attacks. Many display symptoms of mental trauma including insomnia, inability to speak, hallucinations and, in extreme cases, suicidal or homicidal behavior.
MSF counselors have attended to more than 1,874 people in group sessions and more than 50 people in individual sessions in displacement camps. MSF is also conducting sessions in schools and has trained about 30 teachers and more than 40 health workers in aspects of psychological counseling.
"Sometimes, it is difficult to complete a session because the schoolchildren are filled with emotions," said Olela. "Some children suffer from 'selective mutism'—that is, they stop talking. Others can't sleep and this affects their performance in school."
MSF is also concerned that the fear of further attacks is preventing sick and injured people from going to medical centers. The organization has set up mobile clinics in displacement camps and in remote areas. Giving basic medical care also allows medical staff to identify and assist patients in need of psychological support.
"Our teams are focused on equipping people with coping mechanisms, so that they are able to deal with not only the current situation they face but also future violence that may occur in this volatile region," said Dr. Joke Van Peteghem, MSF regional health advisor.
MSF has been working in Kenya since 1987 and runs projects in Kibera, Mathare, Homa Bay, and Dadaab refugee camp. MSF also responds to various medical emergencies in the country.