Medical and humanitarian emergency continues as violence persists in Ivory Coast

April 23, 2011

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Medical and humanitarian emergency continues as violence persists in Ivory Coast © Peter DiCampo / Pulitzer Center

The medical and humanitarian emergency in Ivory Coast persists as violence rages in several neighbourhoods in Abidjan, and security in the west of the country remains critically unstable, with populations hiding in fear in the bush without access to food, water or medical aid. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is deeply concerned for the lives and health of civilians living in fear, which is blocking them from seeking critical medical care.

In the west, post-election violence intensified intercommunal tension and land rivalry, and today the population continues to live in terror of militias and reprisal attacks, particularly in the forested bush areas near the Liberian border.

“Looted and destroyed villages remain deserted, with several burnt bodies still lying along the roads between Guiglo and Toulepleu. MSF teams in the area are now treating wounds inflicted two to three weeks ago for people who did not dare come out of hiding to seek medical care until now. These people are still terrified, so they wait until their condition is critical to seek medical care. The displaced people are too afraid to return to their homes in case the violence is not yet over ,” says Xavier Simon, MSF Head of Mission in Ivory Coast.

On the other side of the border, MSF teams in Liberia are treating newly arrived refugees, including children, with wounds inflicted between two to three weeks ago. They tell MSF staff of traumatic violence experienced in the Ivorian bush during brutal attacks, as recent as 11 days ago, involving intimidation, kidnapping, rape, and the burning of people alive. Even when they reach the Liberian side, safety is not guaranteed for these refugees, with incidences of militias crossing the border from Ivory Coast at night, threatening, beating and demanding food.

“We don’t know how many people are still hiding in fear in the Ivorian bush, or what levels of violence they may be currently exposed to, but the horrific stories we have heard from people are cause for alarm. We increased our mobile clinics up to 12 to reach the most vulnerable, but it still remains too insecure to access the deepest bush to assess needs,” continued Mr. Simon. “It is imperative that civilians are not deliberately targeted in any violence, and that they are able to safely seek life-saving medical care and humanitarian assistance.”

Conditions for displaced people in Ivory Coast are also increasingly cause for concern, with many living outside without shelter in the rainy season or in overcrowded unhygienic conditions in camps. In addition, the risk of outbreaks of measles, meningitis and watery diarrhea are increasing, with isolated cases already appearing.

Meanwhile, in Abidjan, though much of the city began to return to normal, violence and looting continued in several neighbourhoods, with heavy fighting raging in the densely populated neighbourhoods of both Yopougon Athié and PK18. In the last four days, MSF has already treated 32 wounded people in the general hospital in Yopougon Athié. Of the 20 patients treated there for violent trauma yesterday, 14 if them had bullet wounds.

In addition, the MSF-supported hospital in Abobo Sud also treated 60 wounded patients on the 20th of April - 12 of whom had gun shot wounds. Added to this, critical shortages of medical supplies and drugs are affecting the ability of health facilities across the city to deliver essential healthcare. This week MSF has found hundreds of people queuing from 4am in the morning outside Abobo Sud and Anyama hospitals desperate to access medical care.

MSF is an impartial medical humanitarian organization and observes strict neutrality in its operations to provide emergency care. Its activities in Ivory Coast are funded exclusively by private donors, ensuring the organization’s complete independence.

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