Health Fears For Mali's Refugees

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Marco Werman: Five weeks after a coup in the West African nation of Mali there's still confusion and uncertainty there. Today coup leaders said they fought off an attempt by troops loyal to the ousted President to seize back power, but gunfire continued to be heard throughout the capital, Bamako, throughout the day. Lisa Nichols is Project Director with ATN Plus, a health project funded by US Agency for International Development. She has lived in Bamako for over eight years. Lisa Nichols, what is it like in Bamako today?

Lisa Nichols: Well, I can't really speak for what's going on outside the walls of my compound because the US Embassy more or less asked citizens to stay home, and so I haven't been out. My understanding though from what I hear is that there has been some unrest in town.

Werman: You work for a project that is funded by USAID. What has happened to that project?

Nichols: Well, on April 2nd projects were suspended because foreign assistance was suspended except for humanitarian assistance of course. There is a major food insecurity in the region throughout the Sahel, so those activities will continue for the moment, but other activities, particularly those with the government, have been suspended.

Werman: And, Lisa, are you concerned about what these political events could mean for the long term on Mali's healthcare if things go on like this for a while?

Nichols: Yes, very much because what people don't understand, even though there is some cost recovery, not all costs are covered in a health system, obviously, by payment for drugs and services. There's a lot of subsidizing, there's a lot of international assistance for vaccination, for example, for disease surveillance, for pharmaceutical supplies. There's a lot of outside assistance that's needed, and so my concern is also with the displaced population coming south. A lot of them don't have immunity against malaria, for example, and there will be epidemics. There's also the threat of measles and meningitis, epidemics as well.

Werman: And there a lot of those internally displaced people leaving the north right now, so I imagine the threats are pretty severe.

Nichols: Right. The last number was about three hundred thousand, but keep in mind that a fair portion of those are in refugee camps in Mauritania, Burkina, and Niger. So I think internally I've seen anything from fifty thousand to seventy five thousand which is quite possible because a lot of people in the north have families in the south who have incomes, but that safety net gets very, very fragile in these times. So I'm generally concerned about the whole country and not just the north.

Werman: Now, as we said, you've been in Bamako for over eight years. Are you planning to stay in Mali? What information are you getting from the US Embassy that's kind of affecting that decision maybe?

Nichols: I'm staying. The project is continuing. So I don't have any plans to leave right now. We're supposed to go back to work tomorrow. The Prime Minister was on TV today asking everyone to go back to work tomorrow, and that's what we're planning to do right now.

Werman: Lisa Nichols, Project Director with ATN Plus, a health project funded by USAID, based in Mali. Thanks very much, Lisa. Appreciate it.

Nichols: Thank you.