Mali: MSF Maintains its Presence in Timbuktu

July 11, 2012

Mali: MSF Maintains its Presence in Timbuktu © Jean-Michel Van Laere

Since mid-April, an MSF team has been present in Timbuktu’s hospital. MSF is there providing medical care for the people of the city and its environs, in the midst of a region destabilized by the conflict that has enveloped the country’s north and displaced thousands in recent months.

Since the beginning of April, Timbuktu has been in the hands of Tuareg rebels and armed Islamist groups. The city is the scene of pillaging and has rapidly lost a large share of its population: two-thirds of its approximately 40,000 inhabitants have fled toward other regions of Mali or to neighboring countries. In the surrounding villages, some health centers have been pillaged. Since then, a latent tension has pervaded the city. Sporadic fighting has flared up among armed groups and, recently, sacred sites around the city have been destroyed.

“Bringing aid to this destabilized region is a challenge, but it’s also a necessity, explains Dr. Mego Terzian, MSF Emergency Desk Manager. The instability impedes the access of humanitarians, and the north of Mali remains blocked to westerners. Nonetheless, because the situation remains volatile and could deteriorate at any time, we are maintaining our presence in Timbuktu’s hospital and in the surrounding villages.”

MSF is one of the rare humanitarian organizations present in the region of Timbuktu. Five expat volunteers along with the remaining local staff are providing medical care in the city hospital’s departments of pediatrics, medicine, gynecology, and since mid-May, in the department of surgery. Like the city's inhabitants, some of the medical personnel have fled, and those who remain are not paid regularly. Sporadic fuel shortages disrupt the supply of water and electricity, which in turn impedes the hospital’s operations. Furthermore, the hospital lacks medications. As in all conflict zones, the MSF team is providing for the medical needs of the medical facility destabilized by the situation. In two months of activity, more than 300 patients have been admitted to the hospital and over 1500 consultations performed by our teams.

In recent days, restrictions have been placed on vehicle movement within Timbuktu as well as movement out of the city. Nonetheless, MSF teams continue to provide medical care in Niafounké, Goundam, and Gourma-Rharous outside of the city, and limit medical referrals to the Timbuktu hospital. Over the past two months, over 6300 consultations have been performed. The primary diseases observed are respiratory infections, diarrhea, and skin conditions, often related to a lack of water and poor sanitary conditions.

MSF teams are also paying close attention to the nutritional situation since they have observed pockets of malnutrition in the region where malnutrition is a chronic problem, and one that becomes more critical each year at the onset of the “hunger gap” – the lean period that falls between two harvests. Nearly 800 malnourished children have already been treated. However, through its impact on the local economy, the security situation poses the risk of making the nutritional crisis in the region even worse.

MSF is also working in the country's south. Teams are providing nutritional treatment and pediatric care in five health centers and in the Koutiala hospital.


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