Respect for patients and medical facilities must be unequivocally maintained to permit a continued minimum level of healthcare in the country
Brussels/Bangui – In the evening of 24 May 2017, an armed man entered Bangassou hospital, which is managed by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Ministry of Health. He inflicted violence on an MSF nurse, before seizing a patient and her caretaker. The MSF team was trapped in the hospital all night by men from a local armed ‘auto-defense’ group who took control of the entrances gates of the medical compound. The MSF team did not, therefore, see what happened next, but they heard gunshots and residents of the area later reported to MSF that the dead bodies of the two women were found near to the hospital perimeter wall.
“The murders that took place at Bangassou on the night of 24 May endanger the capacity to continue providing medical care in the hospital,” said Brice de le Vingne, MSF Director of Operations. “A hospital is a place where patients can receive treatment without fear, no matter their religion, gender, or political views. It will become increasingly difficult for MSF to continue offering life-saving healthcare if its patients and medical facilities are not respected.”
Since violence intensified in Bangassou on Saturday 13 May, almost the entire town is now controlled by a local armed ‘auto-defense’ group. Despite the difficulties to engage in medical activities during the first days of these renewed combats, the MSF teams managed to negotiate sufficient agreements with the various armed groups to be able to provide life-saving medical care to wounded people and to those displaced from their homes by the violence.
As a neutral, independent and impartial organisation, MSF uses all its experience to try to find ways to continue providing medical care, even during times of open conflict. But MSF teams cannot work unless the armed groups agree to leave patients, medical facilities and health workers alone, including ambulances and patients being referred for care; these must be respected as separate from the conflict.
MSF insists that each and every attack on a patient, a health structure or a medical worker yet further reduces the already vanishingly limited health provision in the country; and this at the time it is most urgently needed.
In just the first week of intensified violence in Bangassou from 13 May, the MSF team treated 70 wounded over the first three days and then provided 330 hospital consultations and 350 mobile clinic consultations in places where displaced people had gathered.