And the queues get longer…
As the message spreads that MSF is providing free healthcare through mobile clinics, the length of the queues of patients awaiting our arrival each morning is growing. Our MSF doctor and nurse are getting used to doing 10 hours of back-to-back consultations, with only time for a few bananas to eat during the day!
Once the mobile clinic is ready each morning, with the patients organised, I leave the medics to their work, and go off to talk with the inhabitants and displaced people living in the nearby villages.
Visiting the makeshift homes where the displaced families are living is always a sobering experience. Some of the families I visited this week have been in the village for 6 months. This is usually considered “enough” time by humanitarian standards for a displaced family to be self-sufficient. For the families I visited in Byunga, this is far from the case. Most families are living with 8-10 people in a space of 3m², often inhabiting the kitchen or storage room of one of the residents of the village. They are sleeping on straw mats on the floor, no blankets, sheets or mosquito nets.
One of their biggest daily problems is how to collect and store water. No-one was able to bring anything from home when their village was attacked. They can borrow a jerrycan from a neighbour for an hour or two to collect water, but then they have nothing to store it in. Even the simplest tasks become incredibly difficult in these conditions.
In other villages, I have been meeting more recently displaced families, many of whom fled their villages around early January after they were attacked. Out of 40 families I spoke with yesterday, 8 of them told me that a family member had been captured during the attack on their village by armed groups. Most of them had been released after a week, but had been badly beaten.
These families face a difficult dilemma: they can sleep in the forest at night close to their village, so they can still access their fields, but risk further attacks. Or they can move 15-20km to the nearest small town where there is more security but they will have problems for finding food. The lucky ones have got family members living in town who can support them, at least for the first month.
MSF is helping these families for the moment by providing free healthcare – hence the huge numbers arriving at our mobile clinics. Due to the high fees for consultations in this area, for many displaced families, it is their first access to healthcare in many months. We are also discussing with ICRC whether some basic household items can be distributed in these villages, as they have already started doing this in other nearby areas. One of the biggest challenges would be how to distribute bulky items like jerrycans in areas where there are no roads… access is by bicycle, motorbike and foot only.