18 April 2011 | Man, Côte d’Ivoire -- The recent upsurge of violence has severely disrupted the functioning of the health system in the western regions of Côte d’Ivoire, concluded a team of public health experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) that just completed a three-day visit to Moyen Cavally and Montagnes.
The team visited key health structures and met national and international partners to assess the humanitarian situation and investigate the obstacles blocking the population’s access to health care.
Since the rekindling of the crisis last December, WHO and health partners have maintained an active presence in health facilities in both regions and shipped medical supplies. However, the escalation of the conflict during the past three weeks has prompted WHO to scale up its operations further and to send a team to support its work in the region.
“Our objective was to identify key interventions to improve access to health services”, says Dr. Simao Luzitu of the WHO’s humanitarian response team. “In addition, Health Cluster partners have agreed on the need for effective early warning system for diseases with epidemic potential.”
All health facilities in Moyen Cavally are affected by shortage of personnel. Not a single surgeon or gynecologist remains in the region and most of the general practiotioners and specialized nurses have also fled the violence. Those who have stayed have not received salaries for three months. In Guiglo District, only five of the 15 health centres are providing limited services.
The treatment of patients requiring surgery is very difficult. Two out of four district hospitals are closed and the remaining two do not have sufficient capacities and ambulances. Patients are left to find their own means of transportation to travel to the nearest functioning referral structure, sometimes hundreds of kilometers away.
According to UNHCR, 800 000 people are internally displaced in Côte d’Ivoire, some 200.000 of them in the western part of the country.
In Duekoue, more than 27 000 people fearing inter-communal violence have found refuge in the compound of the Catholic Mission. As the result, hygiene and sanitation conditions have seriously deteriorated in the overcrowded compound, raising the risk of measles or cholera outbreak.
Stepping up WHO support
This week, WHO delivered nine tons of supplies, including medicines against diarrheal diseases, anti-malarial drugs and surgical equipment for the treatment of injuries, from its pre-positioned stocks in Liberia and Burkina Faso. These supplies will be distributed according to needs.
This comes in addition to the more than five tons of basic medical supplies delivered by WHO since February. All supplies have been shared among 15 health facilities and four district pharmacies and have greatly contributed to keeping the health structure functioning and to ensuring vital care to the wounded. With the escalation of the violence, some of these supplies have been looted in the district pharmacy in Duekoue.
“Our priority must be to keep existing health facilities operational and to reopen those that are closed’ said Dr. Simao at the end of evaluation mission. “We are talking with health authorities and international health partners on the most suitable strategies to achieve this goal”.
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