The France-based medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced it was leaving Somalia after 22 years due to security concerns. The organization that provides crucial health relief in conflict settings has remained in Somalia through some of the most violent stretches. The announcement comes as a surprise and a signal that Somalia’s improvements may be more tenuous than previously reported.
Two MSF staff were killed in December of 2011 while working on Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu. Another pair of staff were released last month after being held for 21 months in south central Somalia after they were kidnapped from Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. MSF says the two incidents highlight only a part of the challenges it has faced in Somalia since 1991. Attacks on MSF staff, ambulances and medical clinics have led to an additional 14 deaths.
Medical programs in Mogadishu, its suburbs and in other parts of Somalia will be closed. MSF says its 1,500 strong staff provided more than 624,000 medical consultations, admitted 41,100 patients to hospitals, cared for 30,090 malnourished children, vaccinated 58,620 people, and delivered 7,300 babies in 2012. The cessation of MSF’s work in Somalia will have an immediate impact on Somalis.
“Ultimately, civilians in Somalia will pay the highest cost,” said Dr. Karunakara. “Much of the Somali population has never known the country without war or famine. Already receiving far less assistance than is needed, the armed groups’ targeting of humanitarian aid and civilians leaders’ tolerance of these abuses has effectively taken away what little access to medical care is available to the Somali people.”
MSF’s work in Somalia dates back to the beginning of the ongoing civil war. The worsening humanitarian situation led to the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force and security force to ensure the delivery of essential humanitarian supplies. The force had the greenlight to engage in fighting if necessary with the peak incident being the failed attempt by US troops to capture United Somali Congress commander General Mohamed Farah Aidid. The event was dramatized by the film Black Hawk Down.
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