When we discuss health issues in African countries the usual conversation revolves around HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria, and the issues around treatment and cure. Rarely do we discuss the repercussions of war and political unrest on African health issues. However, recent political developments in the Ivory Coast illustrate the deadly intersection of political unrest and access to health care.
You may know of the current political situation in the Ivory Coast. After a presidential election took place nearly one month ago, Laurent Gbagbo took control of the presidency. The problem is that he did not actually win the election. According to the popular vote his opponent, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara actually won the election, fair and square. Unfortunately, internal and international pleas to relinquish control of the country and give the presidency back to its rightful winner Ouattara, have been ignored by Gbagbo. Obviously this situation has caused political tension, unrest and, inevitably, violence in the country.
According to a report released by Amnesty International, participants of a peaceful protest against Gbagbo were fired on by “security forces” in the capital city, Abidjan. Sources have approximated that thirty peaceful protestors were killed by security forces. Ten injured protestors were denied medical attention at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire (CHU), a local hospital in the capital, though the resources to save their lives were readily available there.
An eyewitness told Amnesty International that “The Ivorian security forces continue to behave deplorably, firing on unarmed protesters, denying them medical care and threatening medical personnel.” Gbagbo’s regime ordered that injured protestors not be admitted to the hospital. As a result, they were denied life-saving medical attention. One doctor at CHU explained the situation saying, “Medical personnel at CHU said they were instructed to send wounded demonstrators to Abidjan’s military hospital…Medical staff protested saying it was tantamount to sending them to death.”
Although illness caused by typical disease processes (HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria viruses and bacteria) are attributable to the majority of deaths on the African continent, political forces are also contributing factors to increased health problems and mortality rates. The situation in the Ivory Coast is only the latest example of systematic and violent denial of health care to African people.
Unlike disease epidemics, this problem doesn’t require the call for changes in health infrastructure, bed nets, vaccinations or health education. This calls for a cooperative effort between politicians, health officials and ordinary citizens to raise awareness of the consequences of political unrest and war on the health and mortality of African people. Can’t we all just get along?