Burundi + 8 more

This Week at Doctors Without Borders: Week of 22 Nov 1999 (Burundi, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Sierra Leone, East Timor, India, Chechnya, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Access to Essential Medicines Campaign)

Activities Suspended in Regroupment Camps in Burundi: Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has suspended its intervention in the regroupment camps in the rural province of Bujumbura, Burundi. Following the increased insecurity in and around Bujumbura, the population of the province has been regrouped into some 50 camps around the capital. Approximately 300,000 people - nearly two thirds of the population of the province - are living in these camps. Doctors Without Borders had agreed to bring assistance to the regrouped population, in order to provide primary relief and prevent the outbreak of epidemics due to overcrowding, lack of drinking water and lack of shelter at the start of the rainy season. Doctors Without Borders brought emergency relief assistance to 54,000 people in three camps: Ruyaga, Buhonga, Ruziba. However, after two months of relief activities, conditions in these three camps had not improved. Doctors Without Borders intends to maintain support to other ongoing programs in Burundi and remains prepared to intervene in case of epidemic emergencies. For more on Doctors Without Borders in Burundi, see our press release.
Increase in Violence in Sri Lanka: Doctors Without Borders is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. The recent outbreak of major fighting has caused civilian casualties and further hardships in the northern areas. Doctors Without Borders has called on the warring parties to respect international humanitarian law, stop indiscriminate attacks on civilians, guarantee front-line passage for relief goods and provide access to humanitarian agencies. "Doctors Without Borders field workers near the combat zone have already come across sad evidence of the indiscriminate use of force," said Operational Director Marcel van Soest. "Both the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers must respect the right of civilians not to be targets of attack." After having been isolated for a period, teams in Mallavi and Puthukkuydiyiruppu have now been allowed to leave and are being replaced with fresh medical and logistical staff. The situation for the front line city of Vavuniya remains critical. Says van Soest,

"We are concerned that should fighting continue for an extended period, the civilian population in the affected areas is likely to face severe shortages of food and essential medical supplies. It is necessary that both sides take steps to ensure the open flow of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population."

Second Severe Earthquake Hits Turkey: On November 12, a 7.2 earthquake hit Turkey in the town of Duzce, 170 kilometers east of Istanbul. The earthquake was followed by more than 20 aftershocks. Doctors Without Borders immediately sent a team from Brussels, and together with its Turkish counterparts, arrived on the scene in Duzce within 12 hours. Since the Izmit earthquake earlier this year, Doctors Without Borders has maintained a stock of supplies in Istanbul, including medicines, medical equipment, water and sanitation supplies, and plastic sheeting, ready for distribution in just such an emergency. Teams set up a medical clinic in Kajnasjly, a town of 10,000 at the epicenter, where all medical facilities had been destroyed. Compared to the Izmit quake, in Duzce there were far fewer casualties since the area was sparsely populated and the emergency response was much improved.

Doctors Without Borders team returns to Makeni, Sierra Leone: Last week, the Doctors Without Borders team returned to Makeni after an absence of nearly three weeks, and are reopening their projects on a limited scale. Project activities had been interrupted on October 15 after heavy fighting broke out in Makeni between two rebel groups. The international staff was in Freetown at the time of the fighting. The Doctors Without Borders office in Makeni was looted, with drugs, radio equipment and a car stolen. Contact with the remaining national staff was broken for some time. One national worker was away in a remote area with a mobile clinic, and hid for more than a week in a small village, concealing the Doctors Without Borders vehicle in the jungle. By now, all staff have returned safely to the projects. Last week, Doctors Without Borders demanded the return of looted goods from the new RUF commander in the area. This demand has been partly met, though the vehicle was returned to the team in deplorable condition. In Makeni and Magburaka, Doctors Without Borders has set up permanent clinics in the hospital and is running a mobile clinic that serves the population around these two towns. In the Kambia district, it was possible to continue project activities unhindered during this period. Doctors Without Borders is in Kambia town, running a health post and an in-patient department where malnourished children are also treated. The team is temporarily supported by a nutritionist, who is researching possible malnutrition in the district.

More East Timorese Return to their Homes: Now that Interfet has the situation in East Timor increasingly under control, more and more Timorese are beginning to return home. So far, 50,000 of the 250,000 refugees have returned by boat, aircraft or land, with 2000 crossing the border every day. However, in the refugee camps in West Timor near the border, pro-Indonesian militias have been terrorizing the population with acts of murder and rape, and spreading misinformation about the situation in East Timor. As a result, the refugees hardly dare to admit that they want to go home. The aid organisations fear that attention to this problem from the Indonesian government and the international community will fade away, making it more and more difficult for the refugees to return. The first heavy rains in Timor fell last week, flooding both the stadium and the port area, so that a new transit center had to be set up. Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, Worldvision and Caritas are collaborating there to receive the returnees. Doctors Without Borders is taking care of the medical inspections, and the team has treated cases of acute malaria, dehydration and diarrhea. Health posts in Liquica and Maliana have been set up and are serving as bases for the mobile teams covering the remote parts of these districts. The teams are also distributing emergency housing and other emergency aid.

Mobile Clinics Visit Villages by Boat in Cyclone-Hit Region of India: Doctors Without Borders has started up operations in Orissa, the Indian province that was hit by the worst cyclone of the century in this region. The death toll is reportedly over 10,000 people, but the true extent of the disaster is still unknown. In the two coastal districts of Kendrapara and Jagathsinghpur, Doctors Without Borders is focusing on epidemiological surveillance and prevention of epidemics, particularly of waterborne diseases such as cholera, shigella, diarrhea and other communicable diseases such as measles. In Mahakalpadai (Kendrapara district), Doctors Without Borders is concentrating its efforts on the delta islands, which are accessible only by boat. The delta area is very remote, with inadequate health structures even in normal times. From Kendrapara, it can take up to five hours to reach these villages. The poor migrant fishermen from West Bengal and Bangladesh who live on these islands rely on fishing and rice paddies for their income. Both their boats and particularly their rice fields have been badly damaged by the severe winds and torrential rains. The total population in this region is approximately 25,000. With two mobile clinics operating by boat, Doctors Without Borders visits villages in rotation and provides from 60 to 80 consultations a day. The teams are confronted with scabies, diarrhea, respiratory infections, malaria, and measles. Doctors Without Borders is also monitoring the health in the slums of Paradip (Jagathsinghpur district), by providing epidemiological surveillance.

Open Letter on Chechnya Issued to OSCE Leaders: Doctors Without Borders released an open letter expressing "revolt and indignation concerning the plight of the civilian population in Chechnya," to world leaders gathered in Istanbul for the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe(OSCE). The Chechen population has been the target of systematic, indiscriminate bombings by Russian forces for over two months. The all-out war led by the Russian military on Chechen territory has made impossible all independent humanitarian aid for the displaced and wounded civilians. Given the systematic violation of international human rights and OSCE rules regarding human and minority rights, Doctors Without Borders called on the OSCE to pressure the Russian authorities to stop immediately the indiscriminate bombing of the Chechen population, to authorize those who wish to leave Chechnya and seek refuge outside the country, and to give refugees and the wounded access to humanitarian assistance.

Feeding Program in Ethiopia: Doctors Without Borders has begun a feeding program for 5500 mothers and children in Konso in southwestern Ethiopia. A recent survey by Doctors Without Borders of 900 children in Konso revealed that 20 percent are malnourished. The mothers and children are being given supplementary feeding each week, consisting of flour with which to make porridge. A general food ration is being provided by another aid organization. "The harvest has failed in Konso for the past three years," said Doctors Without Borders nutritionist Saskia van der Kam, after a visit to Konso. The town, which is remote and has a harsh microclimate, is suffering a severe drought. Doctors Without Borders has so far distributed 40 tons of supplementary rations.

Assistance to Flood Victims in Cambodia: Doctors Without Borders has provided basic medical and nutritional aid to Cambodians displaced by severe flooding in the provinces of Pursat, Takeo, Kompong Speu, Kandal, and Phnom Penh. Working in cooperation with the local health authorities and the Cambodian Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders provided basic nutritional and medical assistance to 283 displaced families in the villages of Talo and Haal Til and to 160 familes (654 persons) from four severely flooded villages in Boeung Khnar. In Phnom Penh, Doctors Without Borders opened a health center to provide medical care for displaced people who sought refuge on higher ground. In addition, 6 outreach teams visited villages in the region to assess health needs and distribute water-purification materials and plastic sheeting for emergency shelter.

Access to Essential Medicines Campaign Launched in Europe: Doctors Without Borders is launching the Access to Essential Medicines Campaign at the European Parliament in Brussels. Every year, millions of poor people die of curable diseases. The medicines for these diseases are too costly, lacking in quality or effectiveness, or out of production. The majority of tropical medicines were developed over 40 years ago and many are no longer effective due to the mutation of microbes into resistant strains. The pharmaceutical industry is neglecting tropical diseases, because they find it a commercially uninteresting market. The globalization of the pharmaceutical industry and international trade agreements have led to higher prices, further limiting access to medicines. The Doctors Without Borders campaign aims to find practical solutions for improving access to life-saving drugs. In Brussels, Doctors Without Borders is asking the European Union to take the lead in putting the access issues on the agenda of the World Trade Organization's new ministerial conference, starting in Seattle in late November. Doctors Without Borders affirms that within world trade agreements, essential medicines should not be treated like other products because access to them is a matter of life and death. Doctors Without Borders has also organized, together with Health Action International and Consumer Project on Technology, an international conference in Amsterdam on the issue of access to essential medicines. At this meeting, more than 300 health advocates, including representatives of NGOs, the pharmaceutical industry, national governments, and academia, from over 45 developing and developed countries will prepare their demands for the WTO conference.