Strengthening Access to Healthcare: Northern Mali

In 2012 the Republic of Mali became consumed by political turmoil as the sitting President, Amadou Toumane Toure, was overthrown in a coup.

An armed rebellion emerged in the north of the country, a region with a nomadic population that has often considered itself marginalized by the government in the capital of Bamako. Since then, the country has experienced recurring instability. This has mainly been caused by increased violence by armed militias in northern rural areas, such as the region of Gao, that the government finds difficult to control. In the period leading up to 2015, Mali was ranked as the deadliest peacekeeping mission for the UN with 53 deaths – more than the DRC and South Sudan combined.

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Medécins du Monde Belgium has been working in the country for over 10 years, mostly in the Gao region, and is the only health INGO left working in northern Mali. Our team is currently managing projects in 6 community health centers in the towns of Gao and Ménaka, serving over 33,700 people. Next year this will increase to 20 health centers serving nearly 70,000 people. The overall environment in Mali remains volatile and many INGO’s have withdrawn their teams from the country. More than 85% of the country’s population lives over 5 kilometers away from the nearest health facility. In hard to reach communities this has led to a rise in the prevalence of severe malaria and other common diseases that would be otherwise easily prevented.

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In addition, northern Mali has experienced multiple food crises in the last 10 years. Close to 20 million people across multiple countries in the region are believed to have experienced food insecurity, leading to rising levels of malnutrition. In response to this, our teams in Gao and Ménaka have implemented nutritional programs for children and pregnant women – screening those who are potentially malnourished and immediately incorporating them into our programs if needed. In 2015 we screened over 8,000 children for malnutrition, with 345 taken into our programs.

A young mother in Ménaka explained “I was terrified when the doctor told me my daughter was severely malnourished. I had lost my son for the same reason. Today, thankfully, she is healthy and happy.”

One of our staff conducts a malnutrition screening test on a young child.

Lack of vaccinations also accounts for high child mortality rates in the north of the country. Only 39% of children are completely vaccinated, with children in rural and nomadic communities particularly affected. Our teams regularly organize vaccination campaigns to meet the needs of these populations – often through our mobile units which provide services to remote communities. In 2015 our teams vaccinated 26,520 children against diseases such as hepatitis B, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus. Due to a lack of significant health infrastructure, standard medical procedures often become increasingly risky. Childbirth in Mali is a dangerous process, with high mortality rates for both mothers and newborns. In response, our teams conduct pre and post natal consultations, which have benefited hundreds of women in the last six months.

Without the help of our dedicated team on the ground in Ménaka and Gao, thousands of people would be without access to basic healthcare.