October 19, 2003
In early October, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) set up a project to treat the victims of rape and sexual violence near Liberia's capital, Monrovia. Civil war has devastated the country over the last 14 years, and it is feared that a high proportion of woman and children suffered brutal sexual abuse or attacks, with women being taken from their families to be used as sex slaves and children as young as five being assaulted.
The project aims to encourage rape victims and their families to seek care quickly after sexual attacks in order to receive essential medical attention.
The project is running in three camps just north of Monrovia which shelter nearly 16,000 people who fled their homes during the fighting. MSF Liberian staff, many whom have also been victims of the war, work in the camps to spread the message that treatment is available and give rape survivors the confidence to come forward for treatment. In doing so, they have to tackle the cultural taboos and social shame that surrounds sexual violence in order to encourage women and girls to speak out about their experiences.
Women and children who report being raped are referred first to local health clinics and then to Redemption hospital in Monrovia for examination and treatment. It is important that a local member of staff stays with the patient throughout, to explain the different steps of the procedure. Patients are given a prophylaxis to prevent pregnancy if they arrive within five days of a sexual attack.
Those who come for treatment within three days of being raped can be given PEP, a prophylaxis that reduces the risk of contracting the HIV virus. All those who seek treatment are also treated for other sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis, and are vaccinated against hepatitis B and tetanus.
In the first two weeks of the project, the team has seen about 20 patients, which suggests the frequency of rape and sexual abuse to be very high.
According to Dr Nathalie Civet, who is coordinating the project, "Many of the patients the MSF team are seeing are reporting sexual attacks that happened back in June, when there was intense fighting between rebels and government troops in and around Monrovia. However, we have also been surprised by the high rate of intra-familial sexual abuse.
"We are sure that even after the emergency situation caused by the intense fighting has settled down, there will still be a significant need in Liberia for medical care for victims of sexual abuse and rape," she said.
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)