Landmines add to Mali difficulties for aid workers


The discovery of landmines in Mali is another addition to the list of dangers facing volunteer doctors, nurses and other medical personnel in providing sorely needed aid to citizens of the West African country.

Travel constraints and communications problems, while not life threatening, are also hampering Medicins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) volunteers from getting to areas where their help is most needed.

In its latest update from the strife-torn West African country, the international volunteer organisation said it was battling to assess the health status of displaced people and maintain large scale humanitarian operations. This is against the background of the UN already having recorded 380 000 Malians either displaced or living as refugees in neighbouring countries including Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Algeria.

In Konna, seen as the pivotal area between Mali’s northern and southern sectors where MSF gained access last week, teams have already done over 600 consultations. Having established themselves in the health centre after medical staff fled the only medical facility in Konna, MSF also treated four war wounded patients, three of them children injured after playing with an unexploded device. The children were stabilised and transferred to nearby Sevare Hospital for further treatment.

Further north in Douentza, MSF continues to work at the city hospital. Medical staff remained at the hospital around the clock during intense bombing of the city, conducting about 450 consultations a week. With the situation now calmer, the number of weekly consultations has increased slightly up to 500. Doctors also attended to three patients with bullet wounds and referred one case to Sevare Hospital. MSF has also increased surgical capacity and restocked medical supplies to strengthen medical services.

Mobile clinics remain suspended following confirmed reports of landmines in the area, MSF said.

In Timbuktu, medical activities are ongoing, particularly in paediatric, obstetrical, emergency and surgical care. Over the past 20 days, MSF treated some 30 wounded patients at Timbuktu hospital. Since the beginning of the year medical teams have conducted over 9 000 consultations in the region. Medical supplies and medicines have also been delivered to the nine health centres MSF supports in the Timbuktu region.

MSF has been working in the Timbuktu region for more than 10 months and continues to handle large numbers of patients. Last year MSF conducted 50 000 medical consultations (a third of them for malaria), hospitalised 1 600 people and performed more than 400 operations.

MSF is working at health centres in Wabaria and Sossokoira around Gao. Activities at Chabaria are temporarily on hold due to security concerns. Medical teams daily conduct up to 65 consultations at each centre. This volume has remained steady as the conflict has intensified, though MSF has suspended its mobile clinics which had been providing medical care to people who could not reach any of the fixed sites.

Further south, in Ansongo, MSF is providing primary and secondary care, as well as surgery, in the local hospital, while also ensuring the delivery of supplies and medicine so teams can respond effectively in the event of an influx of wounded.