Print options

May 11, 2011

Ivory Coast Medical Needs Rise as Violence Subsides

by Joe DeCapua

While the major violence may have subsided in Ivory Coast over the past month, medical needs are said to be at critical levels.

Doctors Without Borders [MSF] says health centers and hospitals are overwhelmed and drug supplies in Abidjan are dangerously low. “Clearly, the emergency remains and the humanitarian situation remains worrying,” said Renzo Fricke, MSF’s emergency coordinator.

Abidjan

In the commercial capital, tension continues in some neighborhoods.

“We still continue to receive new cases of violence, up to 20 new cases of violence per day,” he said, “and mostly gunshot wounded…. The health system has completely collapsed, completely down. There are still no supplies in the hospitals. Staff are very, very slow in coming back.”

Gunshot wounds may require several surgeries to repair, adding to the medical care overload.

The new government announced several weeks ago that free medical care would be provided to all those in need. “It’s just not realistic, as there are no drugs available,” said Fricke.

While the Ivorian government is unable to provide all the free care it promised, Doctors Without Borders is doing so at seven hospitals and clinics in Abidjan. Fricke described the number of patients coming to the hospitals as “overwhelming.”

“So we see queues every day from early in the morning in front of every structure. The reality is there is an important backlog of wounded patients that were not cared for for weeks because people were trapped in the neighborhoods. So, we have a lot of old wounded in addition to the new ones we see,” he said.

Other emergency medical needs include caring for pregnant women and for malaria cases after the start of the rainy season.

Liberia and western Ivory Coast

Liberian counties along the Ivoirian border have become home to many who fled the violence. Aid agencies believe most may be supporters of former president Laurent Gbagbo.

“In Liberia, we think there are still more than 100,000 refugees.  We don’t know how many more are hidden in the bush, mostly in Ivory Coast, because of fear, because of violence that remained for weeks,” Fricke said.

MSF is operating mobile clinics both in Liberia and western Ivory Coast in an attempt to bring medical care to those too afraid to come out of hiding.

During the violence, towns such as Duekoue, Guiglo, Blolequin and Toulepleu were scenes of violence or mass displacement. Problems remain.

Fricke described Blolequin and Toulepleu as “completely empty because people just disappeared either in Liberia or in the bush. In Duekoue, the neighborhood of Carrefour was destroyed. Probably up to 20,000 people that are still living in the Catholic mission are from this neighborhood or the villages around Duekoue. And these people are not able to go back to their neighborhood or villages because either they’re still too afraid or because their house has been destroyed or burned.”

In Guiglo, there are no reports of mass destruction or displacement. In fact, many displaced had tried to seek refuge near the town.

Getting to normal

After years of tensions and ethnic violence and the recent political turmoil and fighting, Ivory Coast is a long way from returning to the days when it was considered a very stable country. But just how long?

“Difficult question,” said Fricke, “I’m afraid it’s going to take months before the system, the administration, the new government is able to properly manage the emergency or the country.”

The government, among other things, must find enough medicine for the sick and wounded and enough money to pay for the doctors and nurses, who’ve been slow to return to work. The new government also faces the task of restoring security and reviving the economy.