Immense Suffering in Northern Uganda - Urgent Action Needed

Kampala, 8 November 2004 - Recent retrospective mortality surveys conducted by the international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) highlight the immense suffering and the critical nature of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Northern Uganda. According to MSF, the severity of the crisis requires urgent action from the international community and aid organizations.

Poor living conditions and insufficient assistance has had a devastating impact on people. Surveys conducted by MSF this past October in six camps for internally displaced people in Lira and Pader districts found a crude mortality rate (CMR) of 2.8 deaths/10,000 people per day for the general population. The mortality rate was even more alarming among children under five years of age at 5.4 deaths/10,000 children a day, with the rate as high as 10.5 deaths/10,000 children a day in one location.

"The extent of suffering is overwhelming, and the situation remains critical," said Monica de Castellarnau, the head of mission for MSF, from Kampala. "Not only do people live in constant insecurity, they lack basic resources and safe access to water, food, and healthcare. Our findings show a situation that is beyond an acute emergency. We are doing what we can, but more assistance is needed immediately."

A mental health survey in Pader Town Center revealed that almost all respondents have been exposed to severe traumatic events since 2002: 63% report the disappearance or abduction of a family member, 58% report the death of a family member due to the insurgency, 79% have witnessed torture, and 40% have witnessed a killing. Another very disturbing figure is that 5% of the population have been forced to physically harm somebody. The survey also revealed that 62% of women interviewed think about committing suicide. In its clinic in Pader, MSF has already treated several patients for the consequences of failed suicide attempts.

Civilians in Northern Uganda have been exposed to extreme levels of violence throughout the 18-year conflict, with reports of torture, abduction of children, and killings commonplace. More than 1.6 million people have fled their homes and are living in camps or "protected villages."

MSF has been working in Uganda since 1986. Today, 67 international aid workers and 510 Ugandan staff have programs in 9 districts. In Lira District, MSF runs a 350-bed therapeutic feeding center (TFC) and a supplementary feeding program, 4 clinics in Aloi, Amugu,Aromo, and Agweng camps. Two mobile clinics serve Apala and Omoro every week, and teams conduct water and sanitation activities in 8 rural camps. In Pader District, MSF runs water and sanitation and medical activities in the camp in Pader town, as well as a mobile clinic to Atanga camp. A recent assessment in Patongo found tens of thousands of people living in squalid conditions with little access to healthcare. Medical activities in Kitgum District includes mobile clinics to Padibe camp, with plans to provide care in Mucwini and Lokung camps in the coming weeks. In Gulu District, MSF runs a Night Shelter for the nearly 4,000 children seeking a safe place to sleep each night on the grounds of Lacor Hospital. MSF also supports a clinic in Pabbo camp, where MSF has treated nearly 100 patients in a cholera treatment center following a recent cholera outbreak. In the Teso region, MSF runs a TFC, supplementary feeding program, and outpatient health services in Soroti, as well as providing medical care at a clinic in Abalang. MSF also conducts mobile clinics to Achuna and elsewhere in the region.