Mozambique: Urgent assistance needed for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by violence

MSF staff provide medical consultations through a mobile clinic to displaced and local people in Impire, a village in the Cabo Delgado province.
Mozambique 2020 © Joaquim Guinart/MSF
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MSF launches new activities as more displaced people in the northern region of Cabo Delgado are at risk of contracting malaria, COVID-19, and other deadly diseases due to poor living conditions

NEW YORK/MAPUTO, NOVEMBER 4, 2020—More than 400,000 people from Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado have been displaced by violence and are facing serious health risks due to poor living conditions, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Many of those who have fled attacks by armed groups and Mozambican forces are now living in unsanitary, overcrowded conditions. They lack clean drinking water and are exposed to malaria, while facing the increasing risk of an outbreak of measles, diarrhea, or COVID-19.

“Approximately 10,000 displaced people arrived by boat to Cabo Delgado’s provincial capital of Pemba last week alone,” said Joaquim Guinart, MSF project coordinator in Cabo Delgado. “They were dehydrated. Women gave birth at sea. There have been cases of severe and potentially fatal diarrhea. There’s a lot of pressure on local medical staff as 20,000 people have arrived throughout the last month, and more will continue to come.”

There is currently no end in sight to the fighting that started in October 2017. In fact, the violence has continued to increase in intensity, forcing almost a fifth of the province’s population to leave their homes and reducing access to care and other services in the area to almost zero. Due to the violence, MSF suspended its own medical humanitarian activities in Mocimboa da Praia in March—followed by Macomia in May, after an insurgent attack during which the Macomia health center where MSF staff worked was ransacked and burned. It is estimated that more than 20 local health facilities have been destroyed during the conflict, leaving the community with few health care options.

Approximately 100,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have sought refuge in and around Pemba in temporary shelter sites, such as school buildings or with host families, increasing the city’s population by one-third. MSF has accordingly relocated its base to the city of Pemba, where teams have been providing medical assistance to displaced people and the wider community. Even so, MSF struggles to remain operational in Cabo Delgado due to administrative constraints and COVID-19 travel restrictions, which force the organization to work with minimal capacity even as the needs continue to grow exponentially.

“MSF is deeply concerned about the continued violence and deteriorating conditions in Cabo Delgado and the quickly growing number of displaced people,” said Alain Kassa, MSF head of mission for Mozambique. “This is especially true with the onset of the rainy season, which heightens the risk of malaria. The basic needs of displaced people remain largely unmet despite existing efforts to provide humanitarian assistance.”

MSF started a mobile clinic in the Metuge district of Pemba in September. Due to the constant new arrival of displaced people, a second mobile clinic was launched on October 28. MSF plans to use these mobile clinics to reach more people in more remote districts in the coming weeks. Teams are also providing water and sanitation assistance at IDP sites and health facilities, and running the diarrhea treatment center in Pemba. With the support of partners, MSF is building 150 latrines and restoring 27 manual water pumps and five water systems in Metuge district, ensuring access to safe water ahead of the upcoming rainy season. However, these activities only address a fraction of the area’s growing needs.

“If no immediate action is taken, this situation will rapidly deteriorate,” Kassa said. “MSF calls upon the Mozambican authorities for support to mobilize additional humanitarian staff and supplies without delay.”

MSF has been present in Mozambique since 1984. In the city of Pemba, MSF is currently supporting health authorities in improving access to water and sanitation as well as responding to possible outbreaks of diarrhea. MSF is also present in Maputo and Beira, providing care to people with advanced HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis C. Across all projects, MSF is supporting the Mozambican Ministry of Health in its response to COVID-19 through the implementation of preventative measures, including infection control, triage, and disease surveillance.