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MSF Delivers Emergency Medical Relief in War-Torn Ivory Coast
January 3, 2003
Since fighting between rebel factions and the government in Ivory Coast first broke out in September 2002, the situation for the civilian population has continued to deteriorate. The World Food Program has estimated that approximately 400,000 people have now fled the central and northern regions of the country toward the south, and between 60,000 and 100,000 people have fled the western town of Man and sought refuge in towns such as Daloa, Duekoue, Bouafle, and Issia. In recent weeks, the onset of new fighting in western parts of the country has forced people to flee once again and seek refuge in regions to the east, or in the neighboring countries of Guinea or Liberia to the west, despite insecurity in these areas, particularly in the Lofa region of northern Liberia which is still ravaged by civil war. As for northern Ivory Coast, the economy has come to a standstill, and access to health care and humanitarian assistance remains practically impossible. Although peace talks are to begin in Paris on January 15, tensions in Ivory Coast continue to rise, and along with them, the needs of the civilian population.
In response to the emergency in Ivory Coast, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has set up an emergency medical team in Bouake, a town of 600,000 situated in the north, about 220 miles from Abidjan, and controlled by rebels since the first days of the insurgency. The MSF team is working in the main hospital assisting the national health staff still remaining. Unfortunately, curfews and a severe lack of transportation have caused many patients from Bouake and the surrounding villages to arrive at the hospital only when their illnesses have reached an advanced stage, causing further health complications linked to the delay in medical treatment. Several children have arrived in the hospital presenting severe forms of malaria, often accompanied by anemia.
In Korhogo, the country's largest northern town, about 390 miles from Abidjan, MSF has sent in medical supplies and a team of international aid workers to provide assistance to the town's 450-bed hospital and eight health centers which together serve a population of about one million people.
"When we first arrived in the northern part of Ivory Coast after the war broke out, we found that the medical needs in the health structures were huge," says Pierre Boulet Desbareau of MSF emergency team, who recently returned from Ivory Coast. "One of the major problems was a lack of nurses and doctors. The former medical staff was appointed and trained by the Ministry of Health. Many of them were not safe anymore once the rebels took over power in the region and they returned to Abidjan." Although the biggest health problems in the country are malaria, respiratory diseases, and diarrhea, Boulet Desbareau explains, "The patients we treat in the health centers and hospital include war wounded civilians and rebels."
Around the towns of Daloa and Duekoue in the west, MSF is running mobile clinics to provide assistance to displaced persons fleeing the fighting in the region. The poorest people have nothing, and the cost of travel to flee the region is on the rise. With the arrival of colder temperatures in the country, there is a fear that conditions for displaced persons will worsen and food may become scarce.
MSF teams in neighboring Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, and Liberia are monitoring the outflow of refugees from Ivory Coast and providing assistance at the borders where needed.
Present in Ivory Coast since 1990, MSF continues its work in Abidjan's MACA Prison (Abidjan House of Arrest and Correction) where it provides healthcare, epidemic control, and nutritional support to 5,800 detainees, including juveniles.
Tags: Ivory Coast