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MSF in Colombia, 2006
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Now in its fifth decade, ongoing violent conflict in Colombia has caused the displacement of over two million people. Whilst many people in remote villages find themselves cut off from basic healthcare services, including immunisation programs, those who have fled to urban shantytowns are subject to poverty, disease and rampant violence. Many people throughout the country are also suffering from mental disorders including acute trauma caused by witnessing or being victims of violent events, but areas affected by violence are often isolated and rarely benefit from visits by healthcare workers.
Expanding care through fixed and mobile clinics
In 2005/2006 MSF continued to provide essential medical services in numerous urban and rural areas of the country, using both fixed health posts and mobile clinics. In addition to basic healthcare, many programs include vaccinations, reproductive healthcare, dentistry and psychosocial support.
In the northeastern department of Norte de Santander, MSF conducted medical outreach activities in isolated rural areas within the El Catatumbo region. Approximately 750 patients were seen each month at two fixed sites and through mobile activities.
In the provinces of Córdoba, Chocó and Antioquía, MSF in 2005/2006 expanded its activities, establishing a fixed clinic for people who had returned to Saiza, Córdoba, and starting a second one in Ríos Sucio, Chocó. Mobile clinics were used to provide healthcare to people living in outlying villages, treating approximately 900 patients monthly.
MSF also established a clinic for displaced persons living in the urban slums of Sincelejo. An average of 1250 patients was treated per month, the most common ailments being respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases and acute viral infections. Near Bogotá, MSF assists the newly displaced in Soacha district, conducting medical consultations and providing mental health support for approximately 1000 displaced persons monthly. The team also informs displaced families about their right to healthcare and provides information on how they can gain access to the complicated government-run health system. Psychosocial care is provided for people living in Florencia, Caquetá. Here approximately 700 are seen monthly, largely for depression and post-traumatic stress. In addition to providing healthcare via mobile brigades, MSF supports health facilities in the Barbacoas region of Nariño province, by training health staff, providing support to rehabilitate rural health structures and implementing water-sanitation and waste management systems.
MSF is also providing medical and psychological assistance to victims of conflict in Tolima and northern Huila departments, an area of fighting, massacres and displacement. In 2005, MSF visited more than 20 different sites and conducted over 14,000 medical and over 4400 psychological consultations in this area.
When an evaluation carried out in Ibagué, the capital of Tolima department, revealed that displaced persons had to wait on average three months before obtaining assistance or medical coverage from government agencies, MSF opened a health center in January 2006 to provide medical and psychological assistance to new arrivals. More than 1000 consultations were conducted in the first four months, nearly 30 percent of them psychological consultations.
Offering medical assistance to survivors of sexual violence
In Chocó department, MSF is working in the jungle city of Quibdó, population 120,000. There are two roads connecting Quibdó to the rest of the country, but both are extremely unsafe because of the ongoing conflict.
Here MSF provides a package of sexual and reproductive healthcare services, targeting survivors of sexual violence in particular. MSF works in the maternity wards of San Francisco Regional and Ismael Roldan hospitals and also supports the city’s five health centers, providing them with family planning methods, emergency contraception and drugs. Using mobile clinics, MSF also provides medical and psychological assistance in areas surrounding Quibdó. In its first three months of activities, MSF performed a total of over 3000 medical, family planning and psychological consultations through this project.
Providing help after violence and a natural disaster
In November 2005, fighting between army and guerilla forces escalated in the town of San Juancito and hundreds fled this part of Norte de Santander. Heavy rains caused flooding and landslides in the same region days later. In coordination with local authorities and the Colombian Red Cross, MSF provided two truckloads of emergency medical material, food, shelter and hygiene kits to approximately 300 displaced persons.
MSF staff held
On 3 February 2006, a local armed group in Norte de Santander detained five MSF staff members. Three team members, all Colombian staff, were released the following day. On 9 February, the final two international staff members were allowed to leave the village where they were being held. After extensive analysis and evaluation of the security situation in its projects in Colombia, MSF decided to cautiously continue its activities, with the exclusion of one area in Norte de Santander.
MSF has worked in Colombia since 1985.