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Saving lives in Central Africa
Yellowknife doctor working with Doctors Without Borders now treating wounded in Bangui

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, May 22, 2013

In a central African country plagued by a coup d'etat, Yellowknife's Dr. AnneMarie Pegg is treating wounded citizens who otherwise would be left to die.

NNSL photo/graphic

Yellowknife family physician AnneMarie Pegg, seen here during a stint with Doctors Without Borders in Syria earlier this year, is currently working in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, which experienced a coup d'etat in March. - photo courtesy of Doctors Without Borders

The health-care system in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, is nearly non-existent and hospitals carry no supplies, according to Pegg. This leaves patients to pay for all materials health professionals use to treat them, even the gloves.

"The nurse or doctor on duty writes a prescription and either the patient or someone in their family must go out to a pharmacy and buy the supplies before the person is treated, even in a life-threatening situation," Pegg explained in an e-mail she sent from Bangui. "If the person has no money, they don't get any care."

Doctors Without Borders' members have been providing free health care to victims of violence for the last couple months. Pegg, who is a member of the organization's emergency pool, joined the team in late April after being posted in Syria where a civil war has been raging for more than two years. The coup d'etat in the Central African Republic began in March.

Pegg is working with a small surgical team at a hospital that receives many patients wounded by bomb blasts, grenades and bullets. It's amazing to be able to treat seriously injured victims, she said, and then see them recover enough to go home.

For Pegg, one of the more memorable moments of her time so far in the capital was when a shipment of crutches arrived and was given to bedridden patients so they could finally venture about.

"It was really great to see patients up and moving around the hospital, talking and smiling, because they were no longer stuck in bed," she wrote. "Some of them I didn't even recognize in the standing position!"

Pegg and her team are planning to leave the country at the end of May now that the situation has calmed down. However, she is not expected back in Yellowknife until August and in the meantime could be sent back to Syria.

The locum doctor said she wouldn't mind returning to the wartorn country, which she was stationed in for about four months starting in January. While there Pegg worked in an unmarked hospital as a medical referent filing papers, treating patients and teaching basic medical training.

"The health-care system in Syria has all but collapsed," explained Pegg. "Medical staff have fled, or worse, have been actively targeted and killed. Hospitals have been targeted also, and many of them completely destroyed.

"Doctors are forced to operate clandestine hospitals that are only open for several days at a time, and then the location changes, out of fear that it will be bombed, and communities are afraid if a health facility opens in their area that they will become a target."

It is also very difficult to get medications because the factories that produce them have been destroyed or their staff have fled, wrote Pegg. The factories' closure has impacted not only those wounded in the violence but residents suffering from chronic diseases, including diabetes. Syrians who were undergoing cancer treatment can't access the necessary supplies and even those who have fled the conflict areas and are living in camps are suffering, said Pegg.

"There is inadequate access to water and sanitation services, so infectious diseases are becoming a huge problem. Children are not being vaccinated, which makes the risks of epidemics, of measles and other preventable diseases very likely. Women don't have access to prenatal care or safe delivery services," she said. "These issues will claim even more lives than the direct conflict if action isn't taken to improve the situation."

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