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Sierra Leone: The worsening public health situation

16-07-1997 News Release 97/27

On 7 July the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society and the ICRC opened a new health-care post in Macauley, a poor, inner-city area of Freetown, the Sierra Leonean capital. Consultations, treatment and basic vaccinations for children (diphtheria, tetanus, polio and measles) are provided free of charge. Several thousand people have already been seen at four similar centres, which were opened in west Freetown the previous week. Meanwhile, an ICRC surgical team is continuing its work at Freetown's Netland hospital, to which ten of the 40 people wounded in the last weekend's fighting were admitted.

A few medicines are still available at Freetown pharmacies, but as most people have not been paid for months, very few can afford to buy them. To make matters worse, the onset of the rainy season has seen a sharp rise in the number of cases of malaria, dysentery and respiratory infection  -  diseases that can prove fatal if they go untreated.

The situation is every bit as alarming in the rest of the country. Repeated clashes between rival forces along the main roads have made any movement hazardous. ICRC delegates operating out of the south-eastern town of Kenema are still bringing assistance to hospitals and a few other health-care facilities scattered throughout the area. On 10 July an ICRC-chartered aircraft flew in 1.6 tonnes of medicines to supply the pharmacy at the hospital in Kenema.

The violence currently prevailing in several areas of Sierra Leone is having tragic human consequences. Recent population movements touched off by the fighting have not only endangered people's health but led to hunger. The rainy season is already the most critical period of the y ear for the food supply; now, with most food-aid organizations driven out by the fighting, a spectacular increase in malnutrition is likely.