Monrovia/New York, June 11, 2003 - Staff and patients in Monrovia's last remaining public hospital were forced to leave yesterday, as the 130-bed civilian Redemption Hospital, supported by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), found itself on the frontline in the extremely violent war raging in the city. Before all staff and patients fled, it was filled to capacity with a large number of war-wounded.
"There are dead bodies in the main street and you can smell death in many places," said Alain Kassa, head of mission for MSF in Liberia. He tried to reach Redemption in the afternoon, and described an increasingly desperate situation in the northern part of town. The MSF team found some patients who escaped in ambulances, others who were being carried by staff or relatives, and one in a wheelbarrow.
In the city, hundreds of thousands and possibly up to one million people are on the run. Many have been displaced for years and are now literally driven to the edge, along the coast south of Monrovia. "People have come from camps where the last food distribution was months ago. They have been fleeing again for six days with nothing to eat. Here in the city, they won't even find the bits and pieces of food that they can gather in the bush," Kassa added. Some are fleeing the city again, in the direction of Kakata to the northeast.
MSF supports, with other organizations, the displaced staying in the sports stadium and will start working on emergency water supply there today. In other parts of the city, most of the MSF clinics are still functioning under difficult conditions. In Mamba Point, south of the city, the MSF team will set up an additional clinic for the displaced today.
But the clinics can only offer outpatient care. According to Dr. Natalie Civet, MSF medical coordinator in Monrovia, the situation is likely to get worse in the immediate future. "There is no public hospital any more that civilians can turn to. Many people are getting close to exhaustion and risk dying in the streets of Monrovia," she said. "And the risk of epidemics is very real. Cholera is endemic and peaks in the rainy season, like now. Overcrowding, lack of food, lack of clean water and a complete absence of sanitation will favor a fast spread of the disease. Also, we have seen the first cases of measles in our clinic in Clara Town." Cholera and measles are among the leading causes of death in Africa.