Health Crisis in Sierra Leone

Malnutrition and Shigella Reported in Mile 91

Freetown/New York, July 20, 2000 — The international humanitarian medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is extremely concerned about the deteriorating security and health situation in Mile 91, a town 50 kilometers southwest of Makeni in northern Sierra Leone. Beginning in May, tens of thousands of people were forcibly displaced to Mile 91 and its environs from the towns of Makeni, Magburuka, and other surrounding villages. The steady influx of people has resulted in a health crisis because access for aid workers and supplies has been restricted by the extreme insecurity in the area.

In just two health clinics during the first half of July, MSF monitored a caseload of 9,000 people, indicating the makings of a health crisis. MSF has seen a rise in the number of patients with bloody diarrhea, many of whom are severely dehydrated. Five of the 10 samples tested were diagnosed as Shigella type 1, which is the most contagious form of diarrhea and can lead to epidemics.

Malnutrition is also a serious problem. In the last two weeks, a feeding center run by another international aid organization has received 170 severely malnourished and 500 malnourished children. Interviews with mothers revealed that the children had become malnourished since arriving in Mile 91.

MSF's research has established that most of the recently displaced people fled because of attacks by government helicopter gunships on their home areas. Atrocities committed by the rebel Revolutionary United Front have also continued to terrorize large numbers of people.

Security in Mile 91 remains a considerable constraint and concern. The town is on the dividing line between opposing forces and close to the Sierra Leone Army base, Camp Charlie. Fighting in the surrounding area, sometimes among militias linked to the government, threatens people who are seeking refuge and reduces the aid that can be provided.

In June, MSF began supporting two clinics in Mile 91 and ran a mobile clinic to reach the surrounding villages. The team's work has been periodically interrupted by violence around the town and they have had to make a four-hour journey each day from their permanent base in Moyamba in order to work in Mile 91.