Pakistan: MSF Forced to Reduce Emergency Activities in North-West

Civilians Trapped In Crossfire With Little Access To Food, Water Or Medical Care

Islamabad/Brussels/New York, May 7, 2009 – The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has had to halt its emergency medical services in the Swat region of Pakistan and reduce activities in other areas affected by the current warfare. The organization was the only one supporting the hospital in Mingora and providing ambulance services in Swat. The reduction of MSF’s activities is a result of the general insecurity, in addition to a number of direct incidents against MSF itself.

“Even before this new offensive, civilians in north-western Pakistan were already struggling to survive a terrible situation,” said Brice de le Vingne, Brussels-based coordinator for MSF’s programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Today, curfews, roadblocks, and intensely fierce warfare make it virtually impossible for them to reach hospitals and clinics. They are literally locked into this situation of extreme violence. On top of that, it is largely impossible for our medical teams to assist them.”

Unknown numbers of people cannot escape the warfare. Trapped in their homes, they cannot go out to buy food, obtain clean water, or visit a doctor if they need to.

MSF calls on all parties to respect the rights of injured civilians to medical treatment and to provide space for MSF to assist them without being subjected to further violence, threats, and intimidation. As a priority, MSF needs to be able to evacuate wounded people and replenish Saidu Sharif Hospital in Mingora with urgently needed medical supplies.

“This is a completely untenable situation,” said De le Vingne. “It has gone from dire to absolutely desperate. And there is every chance that things will get even worse. Right now, exactly when the risks facing people are radically increasing, we are simply not able to set up much of the necessary lifesaving activities.”

Hundreds of thousands of people are seeking refuge in less insecure parts of Pakistan. They often stay with host families, putting extra strain on local resources including health care, or in improvised camps.

In Lower Dir, MSF continues to provide clean water and basic health care to displaced people in two camps. In Peshawar, MSF is preparing for a possible arrival of more displaced, including injured civilians who cannot find treatment closer to home. MSF has a team on standby in Dargai to assist all those who need surgery.

From December 2007 to December 2008, during curfew hours, MSF ambulances transferred approximately 1,300 war-wounded and other patients from various parts of Swat to Saidu Sharif and hospitals in Peshawar and Islamabad. In September, MSF treated nearly 4,000 cholera patients during an outbreak of the disease. Such lifesaving assistance is no longer possible.

Other MSF activities in Pakistan—in Baluchistan, Kurram Agency, and in the Peshawar area—continue uninterrupted. MSF works in three basic health structures in the Peshawar neighborhoods that are hosting families displaced by the war, and has supported a camp in Charsadda and distributed essential non-food items to over 30,000 displaced people in Peshawar, Charsadda, and Mardan since August.