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MSF in Guatemala, 2012
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In four years, the percentage of female patients seeking assistance at the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) sexual violence treatment program within 72 hours of being assaulted has increased from 17 to 64 per cent. Timely treatment means patients can receive prophylactic medication to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
For years, victims of sexual violence have received very little support in Guatemala, and have rarely known where to look for help. Recently, some positive changes have been introduced: survivors of sexual violence are now able to receive medical attention before a crime is reported, and medical staff in public health facilities have begun to offer treatment. MSF completed the handover of its program to the Ministry of Health in 2012, having provided 24-hour services to victims of sexual violence since 2008. Teams had worked in five locations: a health centre and two clinics on the outskirts of Guatemala City, the emergency department of the city’s general hospital, and in the Public Ministry, where assaults are reported. The provision of services in the Public Ministry means that victims of assault who seek justice can access medical care directly.
The teams provided medical, psychological and social care to nearly 4,000 patients over the course of the program, and carried out more than 11,000 follow-up consultations. MSF also worked to influence policies and practices, including advocating the availability of 24-hour healthcare.
A 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Guatemala’s Pacific coast on 7 November, destroying hundreds of homes. MSF donated medicines to health centers in affected districts of the department of San Marcos. The team also provided psychological first aid – initial support and counseling in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event – to survivors suffering panic attacks. In the district of San Juan Ostuncalco, in Quetzaltenango department, more than 300 displaced families received hygiene kits.
Claudia, 17 years old
I was on my way to class, I was going to do my practical work, when they made me get into the car. They abducted and attacked me. They left me with only my trousers and shirt. My mother’s friend told us about a hospital we could go to. We went there and spoke with a woman. That’s how we got in contact with MSF for the first time. I think the hardest time of all was the moment I discovered I was pregnant. I remember the first day I put on maternity trousers and I cried so hard. I was ashamed to be seen outside. Some people helped me, but lots of people blamed me and said bad things about me. So I got angry … angry with them … angry with God who let this happen to me. This has been a long, difficult and often bitter journey. I don’t think the government is paying the attention it should to sexual abuse. It’s not because it isn’t happening – it’s because they pay more attention to killers, as their crimes are more visible and everyone knows it’s happening. For more on MSF’s inner-city programs, including Guatemala City, visit the Urban Survivors website: www.urbansurvivors.org
At the end of 2012 MSF had 23 staff in Guatemala. MSF has been working in the country since 1984.