Guinea: Violence, Curfew Hamper Emergency Care


New York/Conakry, February 13, 2007 – Since Saturday, February 10, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has treated approximately 355 people injured during demonstrations and fighting in Conakry and Gueckedou, Guinea. The majority of them were wounded by stray bullets.

Before the weekend, and after learning about plans for new demonstrations, MSF prepared for the possibility that emergency medical assistance would be needed. The MSF team set up facilities in the Matam health center in the capital, Conakry, and in the hospital in Gueckedou, where MSF is running two HIV/AIDS programs.

While the Matam health center already had an emergency unit in place, MSF set up two extra tents to increase capacity for treating injured patients. Five additional medical staff have arrived to support the MSF team. People with relatively light injuries are treated in the health center; people with more serious wounds are referred to Donka hospital, which has capacity for more complex surgery.

In addition, since February 10 more than 275 wounded people have been admitted and treated at Donka hospital in Conakry, where 37 deaths have also been recorded following violent confrontations. As of today, 60 people remained hospitalized out of 111 admitted to hospitalization wards by Guinean medical teams that are supported by MSF staff. Supplies of medicines as well as medical equipment have been ensured in order to treat the wounded, and the emergency unit of the hospital is now receiving a regular supply of drinking water. MSF also carries out food distribution to hospital patients. Finally, MSF is facilitating the transport of patients to Donka hospital with ambulances. However, movement of emergency vehicles remains limited due to the difficulties imposed by the authorities in obtaining special traffic permits; these documents are necessary for emergency rescue operations to assist the wounded.

"In Matam, for over 24 hours we received more than 47 people wounded by gunshots," says Sergio Martin, MSF head of mission in Guinea. "Now we are particularly worried about the effects of the martial law that has been declared and which includes a curfew that allows movements only between 4pm and 8pm. How are we supposed to transport patients that need specialist treatment if we are not allowed to move between health facilities? We are trying to get an exemption, but up till now none has been granted."

On Monday, demonstrations paired with violence also began in the town of Gueckedou, close to the Liberian border. In the afternoon seven wounded people arrived at the local hospital.

This is not the first time that MSF has had to boost emergency medical services in Conakry. Less than a month ago, during a first wave of demonstrations, MSF supplied the Matam health center with two surgical kits for treatment of 150 injuries, materials for dressing another 200 wounds, and supplies for treating 160 burn injuries.

"We are worried about the 1,200 regular patients in our HIV/AIDS project," says Martin. "They come to our centers regularly to receive medical assistance and free antiretroviral drugs. But the current insecurity and the curfew are preventing them from coming to us and they may not be able to stick to their treatment. The consequences on their health could be serious."

The airport in Conakry has been closed since the weekend, making it virtually impossible for humanitarian organizations to get emergency staff and supplies into Guinea.