The fight for control of Ivory Coast’s commercial capital has taken a heavy toll on civilians, limiting their access to medical care and also limiting the ability of hospitals to replenish supplies of medicines and bandages.
At the Abobo hospital, a medical facility in a northern neighborhood hit hard by the fighting, 20 to 70 patients are arriving each day, many of them with gunshot wounds. Doctors have started rationing gauze and other bandages as supplies run low.
“There are lots of bullets, there is shooting in the streets, you never know when you can be killed,” says Delphine Chedorge, coordinator for Abobo Hospital for the group Doctors Without Borders (MSF), in a phone interview. “We want to ask the authorities to open up the roads and to protect civilians, so that patients and supplies can reach our hospital. The situation is very critical.”
In the past two days, as with much of this four-month political crisis, most of the press attention has focused on two men, both of whom claim to be president of Ivory Coast. Troops loyal to internationally-recognized President-elect Alassane Ouattara besieged the presidential palace in Abidjan on Wednesday, where incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo is reportedly holed up in a bunker, refusing to either negotiate or surrender. Mr. Gbagbo rejected election results from the Nov. 28, 2010 elections in which the African Union, the United Nations, and Ivory Coast’s own electoral commission declared Ouattara the winner, with 54 percent of the vote.
In the ensuing stalemate, armed forces and militias loyal to these two men have gone from a tense standoff into a full-scale civil war. Shelling by Gbagbo’s forces in civilian areas prompted the UN and French forces in Abidjan to intervene and attack Gbagbo’s bases. In the past week, Ouattara’s forces have effectively taken over most of the country and much of Abidjan. In the process, hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians have been killed, and more than one million Ivorians have been displaced from their homes.
At the Abobo hospital, the staff of MSF has been making do with the few supplies it has left. Morphine – an important painkiller for serious operations – has run out. Antibiotics such as penicillin are still in good supply, but basic clean bandages are running low.
“We are getting civilians and soldiers, some wounded by gunfire, by bombs, by rockets, by knife as well,” says Dr. Chedorge. “Even though it is insecure, we are still getting 20 to 70 patients a day, and Abidjan is a big city. There are many parts that we don’t see.”
Dr. Salha Issoufou, the MSF head of mission in Abidjan, warns that the lack of security in the city is effectively denying many wounded Ivorians and the chronically ill from receiving medical care, and it is preventing hospitals from receiving even the most basic supplies. "If this continues for a few more days, the hospital will run out of anesthesia, sterile compresses, and surgical gloves," Dr. Issoufou said in a statement this week.