May 5, 1998 — Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) surgical teams at Connaught Hospital in Freetown, Sierre Leone, report that the number of patients suffering from severe mutilations has increased significantly over the past few weeks. The victims, mostly civilians, originate from the northeastern region of Kono, where insecurity is still rife.
Since April 6, the surgical team has treated 128 injured patients. MSF Head of Mission Monique Nagelkerke worries there could be many more victims in the countryside, unable to reach the hospital. "We fear that this may be just the tip of the iceberg," she says.
Many of the victims have had one or more limbs traumatically amputated; several have also had their ears removed. Some of them walked for weeks through the bush to get to the hospital.
According to the patients, the civilian population of Kono is terrorised by various armed groups, who have been carrying out executions, mutilations, rapes and kidnappings. Attacks are reported to be very systematic, with groups of people rounded up and killed, wounded, or raped, one by one. Many patients report seeing other civilians, some seriously wounded, fleeing into the bush. They remain unaccounted for.
Out of an estimated total population of half a million, about 25,000 people from Kono managed to migrate to villages in the west of the region, and another 70,000 fled across the border to Guinea. Those who remain in the province have no form of protection or care. International agencies are unable to access the area.
An MSF surgical team has been working in Connaught Hospital since May 1997. The organization also supports four other clinics in Freetown and hospitals and clinics in Bo, Pujehun, and Makeni. A nutritional program is carried out in Kambia in the north of Sierra Leone.
MSF is the world's largest independent emergency medical relief organization, providing aid to victims of armed conflict, natural and man-made disasters, and epidemic diseases, and to populations who lack of access to health care. Nearly 2,500 volunteers from 45 countries currently work with MSF, providing medical aid in more than 80 countries.