Urgent situation in Cote d’Ivoire

My close friend and colleague David Paltiel sends this important missive from public health colleagues who have worked in Cote d’Ivoire on HIV efforts. They have direct contacts in country who can provide further information for those who would like to help.

Friends & Colleagues,

We are writing to enlist your help in spreading the word about the deteriorating situation in Côte d’Ivoire and in pressing the United Nations to fulfill its mandate to protect civilians from imminent harm.

We collaborate closely with a team of doctors and researchers based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. This team provides medical care to over 10,000 HIV-infected individuals in that city, many through PEPfAR-related programs. Their excellent treatment services have improved the health of thousands; their pioneering research has saved the lives of even greater numbers throughout the developing world. These are brave men and women who have witnessed desperate humanitarian emergencies first-hand, who function with little support, and who are not the least bit prone to exaggeration.

Over the last few days, we have received increasingly dire reports from our colleagues. They describe the situation in Abidjan as “pre-genocidal.” Several neighborhoods of the capital and outlying areas that are loyal to President-Elect Alassane Ouattara have now been fenced in by troops supporting ex-President Laurent Gbagbo. Civilians attempting to cross checkpoints have been robbed and killed. Gangs of militiamen conduct regular sweeps through neighborhood houses, ostensibly to maintain order but, in reality, to intimidate. Civilians in these neighborhoods are trapped, threatened in their own homes, terrified to leave, and not knowing where to turn for safety. For people with chronic conditions like HIV – dependent on access to medications for their own health –an already life-threatening situation is made even worse by the growing national drug shortage and the real danger of leaving one’s home just to fill a prescription or to keep a medical appointment.

The political-military situation in Côte d’Ivoire was front-and-center in people’s minds a few short weeks ago. But events in Egypt, in Libya, and in Japan have overtaken the headlines. Gbagbo has capitalized on our collective inattention to secure his illegal position and to terrorize the people. The UN needs to fulfill its mandate to protect civilians in Côte d’Ivoire. More than 400 people have been killed and some 400,000 persons displaced while UN troops have been on the ground. Specific steps that can be taken immediately include: opening UN and French military bases to civilian refugees; establishing a humanitarian corridor to permit civilians to escape the violence and reach these bases; and jamming the state broadcasting system so that it can no longer incite violence.

Please help to bring this emergency back to the front burner. If it would help you – or anyone you think might be influential – to obtain direct, eyewitness testimony, we would be happy to help you to make contact with our colleagues in Abidjan.

A. David Paltiel, PhD
Professor, Yale School of Medicine/Yale School of Management

Kenneth A. Freedberg, MD, MSc
Professor , Harvard Medical School

Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH
Associate Professor, Harvard Medical School

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

4 thoughts on “Urgent situation in Cote d’Ivoire”

  1. This breaks my heart Harold. My heart goes out to the people of Cote d’Ivoire. I spent five years (from 5th grade to 10th grade) in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, where my father was a medical missionary. Abidjan was once the most thriving metropolis on the west coast of Africa. It’s beautiful. The people are beautiful. I had always wanted to take my family back there some day to show them where I grew up. Thanks for posting this.

  2. What about the EU embargo that is currently preventing medications such as the ARV treatments from even getting in the country? This risks patients building drug-resistance.

    I was forcefully removed from my home in Abobo by the rebels, not the government forces. We had to hide in a church for several days, to avoid the rebel checkpoints where men laid with slit throats. The government is committing mass atrocities here, but so are the rebels– please don’t forget this. The rebels are the ones who emptied Abobo and they still have checkpoints set up doing the exact same thing as the government forces. This is a civil war, not a government going rogue on the population.

  3. So we’re sending an aircraft carrier, battle group, and Marines in, say, Thursday, right? Right?

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