Congo-Brazzaville: “A lot of people need our help”
Following the explosion of a weapons dump in Brazzaville on Sunday March 4, munitions and grenades were blown several miles across a densely populated civilian area. The accident claimed more than 200 lives and caused more than 1,300 injuries. Handicap International has set up mobile teams to visit the injured and the most vulnerable populations living with host families or in temporary camps. Sophie Domenjoud, an occupational therapist tasked with coordinating aid for people affected by the explosions, provided this update on April 22, 2012.
“I arrived in Brazzaville a couple of weeks ago to take over from an expatriate staff member who had set up the mission in aid of the injured,” explains Domenjoud. “The disaster happened over a month and a half ago, but a lot of people still need our help. The hospitals treated the injured straight after the disaster, but they were discharged very quickly and told to go home or to a camp.”
To search for injured people living in the camps, or more often with host families, Handicap International decided to set up three mobile teams of local staff. “The aim is to identify people who need follow-up care and treatment and to give them immediate assistance when possible, before referring them to appropriate medical facilities,” explains Domenjoud. “I accompany the mobile teams and visit people with injuries to show them how to avoid infections (by treating wounds) and to prevent disabilities (by performing limb exercises). The mobile teams return to see the injured at a later date and provide them with follow-up care. We identify isolated people who are unable to move around to make sure they get treated. It’s important no one gets left out.
“As well as treating wounds, Handicap international provides basic rehabilitation care to avoid limb sequelae following long periods of immobility. (Limb sequelae is a progression, in this case a negative progression, of a pattern of injury or disease. Without rehab, limbs can deteriorate, becoming stiff and immobile, weak, and prone to further deterioration.) It’s also important to work on the stumps of amputees to prepare them for orthopedic fitting in a Congolese center. We also make sure the names of the injured are recorded when they return to hospital so that we can find them again and give them the care they need.
“The people we identify are usually very poor and living in very precarious conditions. Their situation has been made worse by the disaster, but they don’t lose hope, like this eight-year old girl, amputated above the elbow after the explosions. She is living with a host family now because her mother was injured too, along with another member of her family. Despite all this, the girl managed to keep her spirits high. You felt she was the strongest one of all. She fought to survive and was already dressing herself, despite losing her arm.
“We also hand out walking aids, such as walking sticks, walking frames and wheelchairs,” Domenjoud adds. “Just a few days ago, for example, we met a woman, disabled from birth, who had been extremely shocked by the accident. She had had to crawl around up until that point. Thanks to our project, she now uses a wheelchair. She is finally self-reliant. For people with injuries, or people who have always been disabled, being able to move around and live without help from friends and family, I can tell you, it makes all the difference.”
The mission still has a few weeks to run — enough time for the organization’s teams to follow-up people with injuries and the most isolated people, and to ensure that they continue to receive treatment in local health facilities. In order to secure residential areas, Handicap International has also sent a team into the field to help identify unexploded ordnance blown across residential areas by the explosions.