Central Mali: MSF ambulance detained by armed group while transferring patients

One patient died and MSF and ministry of health staff were assaulted during violent detainment

MSF project in Douentza

Mali 2018 © Pape Cire Kane/MSF

Bamako/New York, January 8, 2021—A Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) ambulance transporting patients between Douentza and Sévaré, in central Mali, was violently stopped and detained by armed men for several hours on January 5, said the international medical humanitarian organization. One of MSF’s patients, a man in his sixties, died while the group—including MSF and ministry of health (MoH) staff—was detained. MSF strongly condemns this serious obstruction of medical aid and calls on all parties to the conflict to respect humanitarian and medical action and the safety of civilians.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms all forms of violence against our patients, our staff, and medical aid workers in general," said Juan Carlos Cano, MSF’s head of mission in Mali. "We are very shocked and call on the parties to the conflict to respect the ambulances, medical staff, patients, and their [caretakers]. Medical vehicles must be allowed to transport patients safely.”

The ambulance—clearly identified by an MSF logo—was transporting three patients to the general hospital in Sévaré who were seriously injured in a January 3 attack in the Douentza region. A nurse working for the MoH, a caretaker, and a driver were also in the ambulance. The armed men tied everyone up, assaulted them, and left them exposed to the harsh sun for several hours before finally releasing them.

The MSF ambulance finally reached the hospital in Sévaré the following day. The two patients who survived are currently receiving medical care.

Earlier this week, MSF teams treated several seriously injured patients at the Douentza referral health center, following attacks in the villages of Bounty and Kikara. The patients—who were mostly elderly men—had injuries from explosions, including shards of metal, and gunshot wounds. There is still conflicting information surrounding the circumstances of the attacks. MSF was not present in the area where these attacks occurred and is unable to confirm details.

Following the violent detention of its ambulance and the deterioration of the security situation in central Mali, MSF once again calls on all parties to the conflict to respect the provision of medical and humanitarian aid, medical facilities, and the safety of civilians.

MSF has worked in Mali since 1985. MSF currently runs medical and humanitarian programs in the regions of Kidal, Gao (Ansongo), Mopti (Ténenkou, Douentza, Bandiagara, Bankass and Koro), Ségou (Niono), and Sikasso (Koutiala), and also in the capital city, Bamako.