Providing emergency healthcare in Mali

Following the attack on Ogossagou, UNICEF and partners provided medical assistance to injured children and mass vaccination to prevent future epidemics

By Eliane Luthi
Aissa Maiga, a healthcare worker at the Socoura community health center, vaccinates a child at a newly created displacement site in Sevare.
UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita

05 April 2019

“This is the worst case I have ever seen,” says Aissata Dirabo, head of social services at the regional hospital. She has been working here since 2009. “Everyone needed clothes, because their clothes were torn and stained in blood.”

Shocked, terrified and severely injured children arrived in mass at the regional hospital in Sevare on 23 March 2019, after the village of Ogossagou, Bankass, was attacked, leaving over 150 people dead, one-third of which were children. Over 30 children were badly injured.  

Issa*, 14, whose left hand is now tightly wrapped in a bandage, was one of them. “When it started, I went outside to see if I could flee. That’s when I got hit by a bullet in the hand. My mother got hit too, and then they shot at the baby who was on her back. My mother died.”

Issa*, 14, left hand is now tightly wrapped in a bandage.
UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita

Like Issa, most of the injured children suffered from gunshot wounds and fractures. Others suffered from burns, as homes, granaries and sheds were all set on fire during the attack.

The village of Ogossagou-Peulh in Bankass, Mopti region, was attacked on the night of 23 March 2019, leaving over 150 people dead, one-third of which were children.
UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita

Today, what is left of most family homes in these children’s village is nothing but ash. Granaries have been charred, animals slaughtered, trees have been burnt down and entire houses have collapsed to the ground.

''This is the worst case I have ever seen''

Ogossagou, a small pastoralist village in the increasingly volatile region of Bankass, used to be a village filled with herder families and their goats and sheep. At the end of a long, difficult and sandy road, the village is far away from many basic social services.

The result is that many of the children of Ogossagou have never been vaccinated, do not have birth certificates, and have never been to school. In other words, they were among the most vulnerable communities even before they were attacked.

Dr Mathias Diassana is the traumatologist of the regional hospital in Mopti.
UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita

More than a week after their evacuation, some of the injured children still have small bullets from traditional weapons lodged in their bodies. One girl, who was hit in the face, has a fractured face and another girl, whose wrist was crushed, is slowly losing her fingers.

Dr Mathias Diassana is the traumatologist of the regional hospital in Mopti. In his five years working at the hospital, he has never had as many patients in need of surgery at the same.

“Luckily, our team was immediately informed of the attack, so we were all on site when the patients began arriving. The support of partners such as UNICEF helped immensely to respond to the immediate needs.” Dr Diassana is still following the case of the girl whose hand was crushed and hoping to save it.

Following the attack, UNICEF dispatched critical emergency supplies to the affected areas. On 25 March, a humanitarian flight touched down in Mopti with medical supplies and equipment to cover the needs of 10,000 people for 3 months. Two trucks loaded with tents, mats, water supply systems and sanitation equipment also left the UNICEF warehouse in Bamako by road on the same day. The tents were used as hospital extensions and to cater to the needs of displaced families.

UNICEF Supply staff in Bamako
UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita
Women and children outside a UNICEF tent at a newly created displacement site in Sevare.
UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita

The needs created by the violence go far beyond medical assistance to those injured. Threats and violence in surrounding villages, including another attack two days later in Oundou village, led to mass internal displacement. Over 3,000 people, the majority of which were children, arrived in Mopti and Sevare towns in the week following the attack

Hamadoun Karembé, a healthcare worker at the Mopti health center of reference, vaccinates a child at a newly created displacement site in Sevare.
UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita

At the newly set up IDP informal settlement in Sarema, Yacouba Minta, 8 months, is the first to get vaccinated. In addition to receiving Penta 1, PCV13 and vaccines against pneumonia, rotavirus, and polio, he was also given Vitamin A and screened for malnutrition. His mother, 25-year-old Fatoumata, fled from their home village of Oundou in Bandiagara following an attack on 25 March. It took her and her children 24 hours, including several hours of walking, to reach the site. “I feel relieved to be here,” she says, “and relieved that my son is now protected against common illnesses.”

Like Yacouba, all children aged 0 to 14 receive vaccines on this site, which currently houses 163 internally displaced persons, of which 115 are children.

Fatoumata Minta and her son, Yacouba Minta, 8 months old.
UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita

Despite acute needs, the crisis in Mali remains one of the most underfunded in the world. In order to respond to the spike in needs, UNICEF in Mali is appealing for 1.47 million USD to bring essential healthcare to the families that need it most.