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Ivory Coast violence threatens access to medical care

Medecin Sans Frontieres staff providing treatment despite difficulties including lack of supplies, resources and threats of violence, while Concern steps up its work in Liberia after refugees pour in from the Ivory Coast.

Patients being treated at a hospital in the Ivory Coast, where only one hospital remains open and medical supplies are of extremely short supply.
Patients being treated at a hospital in the Ivory Coast, where only one hospital remains open and medical supplies are of extremely short supply.
Image: Photo taken by Didier Assal via Medecin Sans Frontieres

A NEW SPIRAL of violence in the Ivory Coast is endangering its citizens’ access to medical care, Medecins Sans Frontieres has told TheJournal.ie.

According to the humanitarian aid agency, confrontations raging in parts of the city of Abidjan and in the western part of the country have displaced tens of thousands of people.

In Abidjan, health authorities report that nearly all medical workers in six hospitals have fled as a result of the insecurity, leaving only one hospital in the Abobo neighborhood functional, Abobo Sud.

MSF has been handling medical and surgical emergencies in cooperation with the Ministry of Health in the hospital since late February, and medical teams there have treated 273 emergency patients over the past three weeks, 225 of whom had bullet wounds. Women and children have died of their injuries.

“We heard gunfire in Abobo every day,” said Dr Okanta Chibuzo, an MSF emergency doctor who recently returned from an assignment in Abidjan. “We admitted 10 to 15 wounded people every day.”

On March 17, the Abobo market was attacked, and MSF teams working with Ministry of Health staff treated 66 people with bullet or shell wounds. None could be brought to the hospital by ambulance.

Tens of thousands of Ivoirians have sought refuge in neighbouring Liberia, where MSF’s mobile teams are providing care.

The population’s access to assistance in the western region is a serious challenge. Renzo Fricke, MSF emergency coordinator said:

Health centres either no longer operate, or provide extremely limited service, and they lack drugs and medical supplies, because of looting or lack of staff.

MSF teams are providing primary health care in many towns and villages on both sides of the front lines and are supporting several hospitals, but the proximity to the fighting complicates the teams’ ability to travel.

The country’s banking system and business networks are paralysed and this, coupled with transportation problems, has led to serious disruptions in the distribution and supply of medicines in several regions of the country.

MSF is a medical humanitarian organisation that observes strict neutrality and impartiality in its operations.

The UN has said up to 1 million people have fled their Ivory Coast homes amid fears of civil war.

More than 2 million Malians live there and human rights groups say the foreigners are facing growing threats of violence as the Ivorian political crisis intensifies. Evacuation efforts have been hampered by a lack of buses so far.

Incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo has refused to cede office despite his rival Alassane Ouattara being recognised by the international community as the rightful winner of November’s presidential election.

Armed youth manning makeshift roadblocks have sprung up around the city and the closure of banks and businesses is causing economic chaos in the already impoverished West African country.

The UN is concerned that the fighting could spread to neighboring Liberia, which itself is recovering from years of conflict.

The UN’s human rights office said at least 462 people have been killed in fighting since December, with at least 52 killed in the past week.

Meanwhile,  Concern Worldwide, Ireland’s largest humanitarian organisation, today announced it is to scale up its operations in Liberia in response to the increasing influx of people fleeing the Ivory Coast.

With focus on Libya and Japan, “this hidden emergency must not be forgotten and the world must not lose sight of other urgent humanitarian crises,” says the agency.

Concern first worked in the country in 1991 but is immediately kick-starting an initial six-month action plan to deal with the crisis, providing people in local communities and refugee camps with clean, safe water, sanitation and household kits and latrines.

Concern’s Overseas Director, Paul O’Brien said:

Right now people are focused on high profile crises in Libya and Japan. But this hidden emergency must not be forgotten and the world must not lose sight of other urgent humanitarian crises in countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and, indeed, the wider Horn of Africa.

MSF is accepting donations for its emergency medical work at www.msf.ie/support

Concern is accepting donations at its website, www.concern.net

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