Nurse Tom QuinnDiary of a Liberian aid worker

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is one of the few aid agencies still working in Liberia. Tom Quinn, a nurse who works for MSF, is writing a diary for BBC News Online.


15 August 2003


Lots of movement for me today. A great big sweep through all the camps across the river that we had been helping with medical care until the fighting stopped us.

Now we are back. And that means, for me, a return to worrying how to set up the clinic system again, while in the meantime treating the people who are sick right now.

True, the camps are much less full. It looks like the Lurd fighters pretty much told people it was time for them to "go home".

Five of the eight camps are almost empty. Ricks, Segbe and Plumco have still got a few thousand between them.

Among those who stayed, there are some nasty examples of what this sort of existence does to you.

Twenty or so cases of Kwashiorkor; manifested here in young children presenting with terribly swollen bellies from extremely poor diets.

People are more cheerful. They are becoming more confident the fighting is not about to start again.

I am in the process of getting them out and across this side of town for emergency feeding.

Then I came across three young women with really bad dehydration from diarrhoea. All from one part of a camp and all very probably with cholera.

The priority tomorrow is to get a clinic re-established to deal with the threat. It is clear that the water and sanitation in the camps need urgent work if we are going to stop more of this happening.

A happier story though from a young woman in Ricks, who had been in labour for several days.

It really looked as if the baby was stuck and probably dead. I left her with the clinic supervisor, Magic Willie as I am now calling him, to have a closer examination.

I came back in half an hour and bingo, she had given birth to a perfectly healthy little girl. Just when you think all hope has gone, the human body surprises you again. Now we have a Wilhemena.


'Free' beer


And it looks a bit more likely that Wilhemena may have a slightly brighter future.

People across the city are starting to be more cheerful today. They are becoming more confident that the fighting is not about to start again.

The Nigerian and even American soldiers are much more visible and taking up positions in what was the Lurd area.

The cheerfulness got a bit out of hand this morning when tens of thousands of people were streaming to cross over from Mamba point.

It took me an hour to go across with them and it should have taken a quarter of that. It was like a football crowd or a street carnival.

They were after food of course, which is everywhere on the other side of the river. And not just food. For some reason there is an endless supply of toothpaste that must have been looted from somewhere and is now on every market stall.

There is still free beer as well. The factory is being looted by the gallon as people soak off their sample from a huge vat.

And the most amazing thing is the paint. Another factory that has been looted and its contents now all over the street in lurid stripes.

The Lurd fighters have been collecting up all the cars they can before leaving and are making sure they are brighter, sexier motors with the most outrageous colours.

My prize went to a fluorescent green job with decorative spots all over the windscreen. Very fetching.