Saturday 16 July 2022

"I had a gun pointed at me yesterday"

 the writer was shaken but alive and able to get a message out. I was shaken too.

Let me explain. When you see those "human interest" reports on the news about Médecins Sans Frontières  you see the "nice" pictures of them working with the severely malnourished infants or the critically ill toddlers with malaria or.... well you know the sort of thing I mean. You do not see the worst of it by any means.

The MSF is an extraordinary service and it needs far more recognition than it gets. I admire those who go out under the MSF. They often go into some of the most dangerous places in the world. They risk their lives in order to save the lives of other people. They are the lucky ones. There are other MSF people and other volunteers who don't have those sort of working conditions. No, I am not exaggerating. There are worse working conditions than that.

The man who had the gun pointed at him is a doctor. He has been living in a "tent" - a piece of plastic over the lower branch of a dead tree. He sleeps on a piece of matting. His belongings are locked into a small steel cabinet chained to the tree. The medical supplies, such as they are, have been locked into another cabinet in the tiny "hut" in which he sees his patients. They come, often walking for some days, to see  what he can do for them.All too often there is very little he can do. 

Once a month someone flies in with more medical supplies, food for him and precious clean water. He lives on tins of beans and tuna and dry biscuits.  The villagers can give him nothing because they have nothing to give.

There is always danger. Although he speaks a little of the local language he has to rely on his two "interpreters" and that is not always accurate or easy. There are cultural issues which sometimes make it very difficult to help the women.

Yesterday a woman died in childbirth. There was nothing he could have done to prevent it but this time she was the wife of an important man from some distance away. Her husband was the man with the gun. He was ready to shoot believing that the doctor had not done his best, had not worked the miracle it would have taken. The local men overpowered him as a shot missed. They took his gun. They sat him down and talked to him. Then they had the doctor talk to him. He was still angry, very angry. He sat for hours watching the doctor at work and trying to do his best for some of the poorest people on the planet.

The men of the village now take it in turns to sleep near the doctor to try and keep him safe. His tour of duty will be over at the end of next month. When he leaves there will not be a doctor.

He will leave behind two ill-equipped "nurses" with the minimal medical training he has been able to give them. It's not enough but he needs to move on.

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