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Calm Returning to Bolivian Capital
October 20, 2003
"It is really quiet right now," said MSF head of mission Silvia Moriana as she delivered food and medicines Friday night to Hospital des Clinicas, a six-building complex in the heart of La Paz, Bolivia. "People are waiting to see what happens."
The six-person MSF team, including two doctors and one nurse, was re-supplying the Andean capital's largest hospital after a week of violent clashes between the army and tens of thousands of protesters left scores dead and paralyzed the nation. Hopes were raised that an even larger crisis would be averted when Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada agreed to step down as president of South America's poorest nation.
Protests to a government plan to export the country's vast natural gas reserves have rocked the capital since early October. Many in this impoverished nation are also calling for higher wages, land reform, and a withdrawal from the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
"The worst started last Saturday night," the 30-year old Moriana said. "We went to Hospital des Clinicas and saw that the ambulances had no medicines, so we gave them some basic kits and looked to buy more." That night, MSF joined other national and international organizations in an Emergency Committee to help keep health care services running for 800,000 residents during the tumult.
As the popular unrest swelled, hospitals began to experience severe shortages of food, medical supplies, medicines, and oxygen. There were also reports that ambulances were prevented from reaching people suffering from gunshot wounds. By Friday, emergency supplies from the International Committee of the Red Cross landed in nearby El Alto, bringing much needed relief.
MSF will continue monitoring the situation at Hospital des Clinicas, in addition to supplying food materials and clothing to an estimated 250 people who have sought shelter at the city's main bus terminal.
"If everything stays calm," Moriana said, "we won't have big problems." MSF has been working in Bolivia since 1986. Currently, there are seven international volunteers in the country, working at a mother and child health-care center in El Alto and a Chagas' disease treatment and prevention center in the south of the country.