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Central African Republic: "I've never seen such horrific wounds"

18-02-2014 Interview

Essam El Sayed, a surgeon, arrived in Bangui on 1 January 2014, as bloody intercommunal violence was wreaking unprecedented havoc. For 12 hours a day, he is striving with his team to save the lives of patients seriously injured by gunfire or machetes.

Bangui Community Hospital. A victim of the violence receives treatment for a wound. ©ICRC/Rabhi Mazboudi

 

At Bangui's Community Hospital, where you are based, what kinds of injuries do you have to treat?

We admit between 10 and 15 seriously injured people every day, sometimes more. The serious injuries are caused by bullets, grenade shrapnel and also machetes. I've worked in a lot of violent places, but what we're seeing here is gruesome. I've never seen such horrific wounds. Civilians are having their throats slit. It's proof of deep hatred. Some people were found at the side of the road and their identities are still unknown.

Did any particular case affect you the most?

Bangui Community Hospital. Essam, an ICRC surgeon, treating one of the patients he has operated on.  

Bangui Community Hospital. Essam, an ICRC surgeon, treating one of the patients he has operated on.
© ICRC

The hospital is not in good condition, it has deteriorated through the years due to lack of resources for its maintenance. One man arrived at the hospital with his trachea completely cut open – it was terrible, I'd never seen anything like it. At the end of a long and painful operation, we managed to save him, it was a real miracle. We had to leave the hospital as usual for the curfew (6 in the evening until 6 in the morning). But during the night, due to an electrical breakdown, one of the machines that was indispensable to keeping him alive lost power. The man died even though we had succeeded in saving him. That was really difficult.

What about the hospital staff?

The ICRC has put in place a system of protection with guards at the entrance to Bangui Community Hospital to ensure the safety of the staff and patients, but also to keep any weapons from entering the premises. 

The ICRC has put in place a system of protection with guards at the entrance to Bangui Community Hospital to ensure the safety of the staff and patients, but also to keep any weapons from entering the premises.
© ICRC

Today, the ICRC pays salaries to more than a 100 hospital employees. The rest of the staff have not received salaries for the last five months. Some of them sleep on the hospital premises because they're too afraid to go home. Others, who have had their houses looted, don't have anything left or anywhere to go. And because of the lack of security in the city, life in the hospital is different – there are fewer people, and fewer visits, especially of course during the curfew. The lack of security in the city prevents us from keeping a permanent  presence in the hospital. These are the limits imposed on our action and we have no other choice. For the time being, we're carrying on, working hard. But there are no signs that the violence is going to let up. We're doing everything we can, and will continue to do so, to save the lives of the injured, regardless of who they are.

The ICRC has been working at Bangui Community Hospital since 1 January 2014. At that time, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) had been dealing with emergencies at the hospital since 1 December 2013. Two ICRC surgical teams took over for MSF on 1 February 2014. Some 231 surgical interventions have been carried out by our teams since the beginning of 2014.