Gao Hospital, Mali. Assouman takes his first steps after receiving treatment for a bullet wound. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC
Armed conflict and crime are taking their toll on civilians in northern Mali. For people wounded in the fighting, like Assouman Ag Bilal (pictured), medical treatment provided by the ICRC is crucial.
Assouman is a farmer in Anderamboukane, a village in northern Mali. Every week he goes to market to sell his produce and buy food. On 29 July 2015, when most of the market traders were packing up to go home, four armed men arrived and caused panic when they began firing in the air. Assouman took a bullet in the leg and was robbed of his day's takings. As he was seriously injured, an aid worker took him to the nearest health centre – around 100 km away in Ménaka.
His condition was stable, but he needed specialist treatment. So, the following day, he was evacuated by ambulance to Gao Regional Hospital, 325 km away, where our medical team could treat his wound. "I was in despair, but I feel better since arriving at this hospital. I feel hopeful again," says Assouman, who is impatient for his wound to heal. "I can't wait to go home, in just a few weeks now – back to my life as a farmer, providing for my family," he adds, during a physical rehabilitation session. Assouman is worried, however, about the worsening security conditions in his area. "Armed men are constantly attacking us – they lie in wait and ambush us on the roads, right up to where our villages are," he says, his expression grave. "We need to feel safe again!"
Gao Hospital, Mali. Our medical teams in Gao and Kidal provide vital medical treatment. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC
In addition to the enduringly harsh climatic conditions in northern Mali, communities have to contend with violence and hardship as a result of the armed conflict. But many injured and wounded people receive vital treatment thanks to the ICRC. "We take in wounded patients with a whole range of injuries," explains Abdoulaye Aziz Touré, an ICRC surgeon at Gao Hospital. "Some have been shot during hold-ups at a market or on a road. Others have been injured by mines or explosive devices."
During the fighting between armed groups around Tabankort and Anefis in August 2015, our medical teams in Gao and Kidal treated 49 wounded patients. "They were coming in at all hours. Some needed emergency treatment for bullet wounds. We worked until late into the night," Dr Touré explains. "It was exhausting, but we kept going, despite the difficult conditions."
To make it easier for people in northern Mali to access high-quality health care, we give considerable support to several medical facilities there, in particular community health centres in Ber (Timbuktu) and Intilit (Gao), referral centres in Kidal and Bourem (Gao) and Gao Hospital. "We supply medicines and consumables, and provide training and regular follow-up for health staff. The most vulnerable patients are treated free of charge," says Catherine de Patoul, who coordinates the ICRC's health programme in Mali.