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MSF in Guatemala, 2011
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Working alongside the Ministry of Health in Guatemala City, Doctors Without Borders/Medécins Sans Frontières (MSF) offers 24-hour emergency care to victims of sexual violence. Between January and November 2011, close to 4,000 cases of sexual violence were recorded in Guatemala, although the real number is likely to be far higher, as so many incidents go unreported.
MSF has been working in Guatemala City since 2007, improving access to medical and mental health services for victims of sexual violence. Teams work in the emergency department of the general hospital and in clinics in neighborhoods where violence is particularly common. A team also offers medical assistance at the Ministry of Justice, where incidents of sexual violence are reported.
In 2011, nearly 780 new patients received medical and psychosocial support, and MSF staff carried out more than 1,270 medical consultations. Some 1,500 follow-up psychological consultations were conducted with patients suffering acute post-traumatic stress, anxiety and other symptoms arising from their experiences.
As part of its care, MSF offers medication that, if taken within 72 hours of an assault, significantly reduces the likelihood of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. In 2011, around 61 per cent of patients sought assistance early enough for this treatment to be effective.
But many people in Guatemala are unaware that the physical and mental effects of sexual violence can be treated. Victims generally receive little support. As well as providing medical services, MSF teams organize events and carry out activities to raise awareness and demonstrate to the authorities, the medical community and the public that sexual violence is a medical emergency, and that medical attention must be sought as a matter of urgency after an attack.
Advocating policy change
There have been some positive developments in national policy and practice regarding the treatment of victims of sexual violence recently. In September 2010, the Ministry of Health adopted a national protocol that facilitates access to healthcare for victims of sexual violence. In June 2011, MSF was asked to participate in the promotion of the protocol in various health facilities.
MSF began handing over services in two city clinics to the Ministry of Health in early 2011, while continuing to monitor the care that is given to victims of sexual violence. In 2012, MSF will pursue the handover of activities and follow up implementation of the protocol on the provision of care to victims of sexual violence.
Torrential rains and flooding
The risk of natural disaster in Guatemala is high, and aggravated by climate change. In mid-October, a tropical depression caused flooding and damage in departments on the Pacific coast. MSF distributed blankets, mattresses and washing kits to 1,000 families living in the department of Escuintla.
At the end of 2011, MSF had 40 staff in Guatemala. MSF has been working in the country since 1984.