MSF: Côte d'Ivoire healthcare crumbles amid violence

Access to healthcare in Côte d’Ivoire has been hit hard by post-election violence, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) reported on Friday, as medical staff flee the country and stocks of medicine run out.

The United Nations mission in the country reported 52 deaths in the past week as a stand-off between strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power to internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara, intensifies.

Civilians are bearing the brunt as the political crisis takes to the streets, and the humanitarian situation has sharply deteriorated as hundreds of thousands flee.

“Faced with insecurity like the rest of the population, medical personnel have fled health establishments in conflict zones,” in western Côte d’Ivoire and the economic capital, Abidjan, the organisation said in a statement.

“In Abidjan, according to health officials, six hospitals have seen the departure of most of their staff due to the insecurity,” the aid agency said.

Daily bombardments
The situation was particularly serious in Abidjan’s northern suburb of Abobo, a stronghold of internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara, which has been bombarded almost daily with rockets, mortars and shells.

There was only one hospital functioning in the south of Abobo, and MSF had taken charge of medical and surgical emergencies there since the end of February, it added.

“In this hospital medical teams received 273 emergency patients in three weeks, 225 of whom suffered bullet injuries,” the statement added.

“Women and children have died from their injuries,” it said.

“Every day we hear shooting in Abobo,” said Dr Okanta Chibuzo, an emergency doctor with MSF. “We receive 10 to 15 injured every day.”

MSF said that a lack of medicines was also hitting access to healthcare.

Western sanctions against the government of Laurent Gbagbo had disrupted the supply of drugs, it reported—just as health and humanitarian needs escalate along with post-election violence.

Access to healthcare was equally precarious in the west of the country, the scene of fierce clashes between the rival factions.

As in Abidjan, thousands are fleeing fighting in the west of the country, as rival forces try to seize strategic towns.

Violence, confusion
The UN mission, Unoci, on Thursday reported “a lot of violence, a lot of confusion” in the town of Guiglo, where the UN refugee agency warehouse had been attacked and looted by militia.

“Fighting has intensified in the Guiglo region and residents have no choice but to flee,” read the MSF statement.

“Some health centres have been looted, others don’t function at all, or barely, due to a lack of medical personnel but also medicine and medical equipment,” said Renzo Fricke, MSF emergency co-ordinator.

The MSF team in Côte d’Ivoire is made up of 35 expatriates and 135 Ivorians.

The crisis sprung from a disputed election on November 28 that has killed at least 462 people, according to the UN.

The pro-Ouattara camp puts the death toll at 832.

On Thursday, Valerie Amos, the head of UN humanitarian and emergency relief operations, stressed the plight of civilians caught up in the fighting.

“The escalation of violence and use of heavy weaponry, particularly in urban areas, is taking an increasing toll on civilians,” she said in a statement issued from New York.

“I am also concerned about the increasing targeting and harassment of immigrants from other parts of West Africa, thousands of whom are fleeing the country,” she said.

The UN estimates about 500 000 people have fled their homes since the start of the violence, 90 000 of whom have flooded into neighbouring Liberia.—AFP

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