Colombia: MSF Assists Newly Displaced Population in Chocó Region

Following recent displacement of families around Dubasa River, in the Chocó region of northwest Colombia, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is bringing medical care and water and sanitation support to the population.

The displacement started at the beginning of March when fighting increased between paramilitaries and the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group, forcing families to leave their villages. The displaced population has sought refuge in Catru, a small village of nearly 1,200 people that has seen its population swell to 2,000 with the new arrivals.

Overcrowded living conditions increase risk of disease

MSF has been providing medical care and psychosocial support to the displaced population in Catru since early March. “The local community has shown great solidarity, welcoming the displaced population into their homes,” says Oscar Bernal, MSF medical coordinator in Colombia. “However, at the moment there are two to four families living together in houses that are fit for only one family. With the overcrowding, there is a higher risk that infectious diseases will spread.”

Every day, MSF carries out an average of 70 medical and psychological consultations. “The main health problems are malaria, tuberculosis (TB), and child malnutrition,” says Bernal. MSF has referred cases of complicated pregnancy, pneumonia and extra-pulmonary TB (occurring outside of the lungs) to the hospital in the provincial capital. Referred patients must travel for up to four hours on MSF’s boats and continue the journey over land.

MSF is also training local health promoters on how to prevent diarrhea and malaria and carry out some basic medical treatments. In addition, a de-worming campaign was conducted among the entire population. MSF has also distributed hygiene kits and food items such as sugar, oil, rice, and lentils to both the displaced people and the resident families. To ensure the growing population has access to clean water, MSF has repaired the water supply system in the village. MSF and the community worked together to identify the pressing needs for the community.

MSF boat clinic reaching isolated communities

Dubasa River is a tributary of Baudo River, where MSF started a mobile clinic operation in January 2008. For eight days at a time, a medical team travels upstream by boat to reach isolated communities on the riverbanks. In March, during a regular outreach visit, MSF identified the newly displaced families in Catru and immediately started to respond to their needs.

Colombia has the second largest displaced population in the world, with more than four million people having fled their homes due to the armed conflict. MSF works in 17 out of the 32 regions of the country.