Abidjan - 10 May 2011
Last week was the final battle for Yopougon - and full control of Abidjan. It was fought out block for block, street by street. Watching the elimination of unorganised militias in a densely populated area of over fifty square kilometres must have been a nightmare. While we were visiting some of the health centres in the worst hit areas, the tension of the recent events could almost be touched. Some wanted to talk to us while many others avoided any subject related to fighting or security. Many times we were asked to call in the bodies of militia fighters that had been left for days in the middle of the neighbourhoods adding to the already tense atmosphere. Searches for militia members hiding inside the community continue and the new revolutionary forces are all around.
For the last two weeks our teams have been working to reinforce the capacity of the ministry of health to ensure the reopening of twenty large primary and maternal healthcare centres in and around Yopougon. Temporarily all healthcare and drugs are free to allow optimal access and prevent further negative impact from the crisis. We ensure the services in the centres by contributing in the operating costs and providing drugs and materials to allow quality consultations. In the hardest hit areas we are quickly replacing looted medical equipment and materials in the centres which have been looted. We take special care of those who are directly impacted by the crisis and need aftercare like the wounded, victims of sexual violence, people infected with HIV and TB and the referral of psychosocial care. The only psychiatric hospital of Abidjan is also supported by us to ensure free consultations to all.
Most of the health centres in Yopougon have been closed in the last month, a few have however managed to continue some basic care with limited staff and medication. The staff who often lives in the same neighbourhood understands the importance of the centre also for the moral of the people despite the lack of drugs. They often have had to treat militants and military under tense circumstances, and sometimes threats, but also helped the population trapped in the middle of the fight. We admire their sense of realism and calm in continuing their work and understanding that whatever the reason or background, in the end a patient remains a patient.
Yopougon became a refuge for large groups of lost militias and mercenaries who had nowhere to go after the fall of Gbagbo last month. It was a matter of time before the new revolutionary forces were able to deal with the large militia of Ibrahim Coulibaly in the north of the city. Anarchy ruled in most of the thirteen neighbourhoods and villages that make up Yopougon during these last weeks, with the nervous armed gangs and militias causing havoc. As is often the case, the poorest of the inhabitants, living in the scattered slums, had little choice but to live through the events while many of the slightly better of managed to leave to safer ground.
Marc van der Mullen, MdM Emergency Coordinator