MSF assists as newly displaced dramatically increase population of Colombian village

Following recent displacement of families around Dubasa River, in the Chocó region of northwest Colombia, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is bringing medical care and water and sanitation support to the population.

The displacement started at the beginning of March when tensions increased between paramilitaries and the National Liberation Army (ELN) in the area, forcing families to leave their villages. The displaced population has sought refuge in Catru, a small village of nearly 1,200 people that has seen its population swell to 2,000 with the new arrivals.

Overcrowded living conditions increase risk of disease

MSF has been providing medical care and psycho-social support to the displaced population in Catru since early March.

"The local community has shown great solidarity, welcoming the displaced population into their homes. However, at the moment there are two to four families living together in houses that are fit for only one family,” said Oscar Bernal, MSF medical coordinator in Colombia. "With the overcrowding, there is a higher risk that infectious diseases will spread.”

Every day, MSF carries out an average of 70 medical and psychological consultations.

"The main health problems are malaria, tuberculosis and child malnutrition,” said Bernal.

MSF has referred cases of complicated pregnancy, pneumonia and extra-pulmonary tuberculosis to the hospital in the provincial capital. Referred patients must travel for up to four hours on MSF boats and then continue the journey over land.

MSF is also training local health promoters on how to prevent diarrhoea and malaria and carry out oral re-hydration. In addition, a de-worming campaign was conducted among the whole population. MSF has also distributed hygiene kits and food items such as sugar, oil, rice and lentils to both the displaced people and the resident families.

To ensure the growing population has access to clean water, MSF has repaired the water supply system in the village. MSF and the community worked together to identify the priority needs for the community.

MSF boat clinic reaching isolated communities

Dubasa River is a tributary of Baudo River, where MSF started a mobile clinic operation in January, 2008. For eight days at a time, a medical team travels upstream by boat to reach isolated communities on the riverbanks. In March, during a regular outreach visit, MSF identified the newly displaced families in Catru and immediately started to respond to their needs.

Colombia has the second largest displaced population in the world, with more than four million people having fled their homes due to the armed conflict. MSF works in 17 out of the 32 regions in the country.