High Levels of Mental Trauma Found in Sierra Leone

More Treatment Resources Urgently Needed

January 11, 2000: Amsterdam/New York — The international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today called upon the international community to devote greater resources for the treatment of mental trauma in war-torn Sierra Leone. In a report issued today, "Assessing Trauma in Sierra Leone," MSF found extremely high levels of trauma among a representative survey of civilians in the capital Freetown.

Although fighting in the country has largely ceased since the signing of the Lome Peace Accord of July 1999, the effects of that war will be with the population for many years. MSF found, among other things, that 99% of those surveyed suffered some degree of starvation, 90% witnessed others being wounded or killed, and at least 50% lost someone close to them. The intensity of the fighting is indicated by the numbers: 65% endured shelling, 63% the burning of their property, and 73% the destruction of their homes. Physical harm was also great: 7% had suffered an amputation (typically a limb, hand, foot or ear), 16% were tortured by a member of the warring faction, 33% had been held hostage, and 39% had been maltreated in some way or another.

“Mental trauma does not disappear with the cease-fire,” says Dr. Kaz de Jong, mental health advisor with MSF. "The war may continue in people’s minds for years, decades, perhaps even generations. To address only the material restoration and physical needs of the population is not enough. The psychological devastation of the war will not repair itself on its own."

MSF calls upon governments and donor agencies to provide greater resources for treatment of post-traumatic stress among the general population throughout Sierra Leone.

MSF has been working in Sierra Leone since 1994. It currently has mental health, medical and nutritional projects in Freetown, Makeni, Bo, Kambia, and other areas.