By Peter Luckow, Tiyatien Health Director of Operations
Tiyatien Health is one of PIH’s six supported projects that are endeavoring to implement a philosophy of social justice in health care on a global scale by forging long-term partnerships with local communities and governments to create change.
ZWEDRU, LIBERIA -- More than 30,000 Ivorian refugees have fled to Liberia’s Grand Gedeh County as political violence has intensified in the neighboring Ivory Coast. In collaboration with the public health sector, Tiyatien Health is providing emergency health outreach to the growing number of refugee communities in southeast Liberia.
Escalating violence in the Ivory Coast has forced more than 100,000 Ivorians to seek safety by fleeing west across the Liberian border. As violence has progressed south toward Abidjan, an increasing number of refugees have crossed into border towns in Grand Gedeh County, home to Tiyatien Health.
The conditions in the refugee communities are rapidly deteriorating as Ivorians continue to pour into Grand Gedeh County. Many refugees have been forced to take shelter in overflowing churches, schools, and homes in these communities. Meager resources, poor sanitation, and shortages of food and clean drinking water threaten the health and well-being of the refugees and the Liberian hosts who have opened their doors to the Ivorians.
The influx of tens of thousands of refugees into Grand Gedeh County has placed significant strain on the already understaffed and overstretched health system. Refugees have been admitted to the clinics and hospital in the region for severe malaria, diarrhea, malnutrition, and bullet wounds, among other injuries and diseases. Food shortages and dwindling stocks of blood reserves are threatening the lives of patients at Martha Tubman Memorial Hospital, where nearly one-third of the patients are Ivorian refugees. Dozens of refugees have been found to be HIV-positive, some of whom were on treatment in the Ivory Coast. Stock outs of condoms threaten to reverse many of the gains made in Liberia to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS over recent years.
Over the past several weeks, Tiyatien Health (TH) has been mobilizing our health workers -- many of whom were refugees in the Ivory Coast during Liberia’s civil war -- to improve health care services for the refugee population in Grand Gedeh County, where TH was founded four years ago. TH has been focusing our health outreach in seven refugee communities: Zwedru, Janzon, ZiaTown, PouhTown, ZlehTown, ToeTown, and Tempo.
In these communities, TH teams are actively promoting health and sanitation awareness, and our community health workers are ensuring that HIV patients continue receiving the courses of antiretroviral treatment that some began while in Ivory Coast. We are also beginning to assess emotional trauma among the refugees and conduct psychological first aid. With advice from Partners In Health, TH is building a comprehensive mental health and psychosocial response, rooted within the communities of displaced people.
Importantly, TH leadership in Zwedru has facilitated greater coordination among health partners in Grand Gedeh County, including the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare’s County Health Team, UNHCR, Merlin UK, and Médecins Sans Frontières, among others. Through the strength of our existing community connections, TH outreach teams have already helped identify acute water, sanitation, and food shortages, and are working with partners to facilitate delivery of these critical services. TH has also begun operating referral and ambulance services throughout the county. Through active surveillance, TH is bringing the sickest, most vulnerable people to receive lifesaving care.
TH aims to mobilize additional funds in order to continue providing essential health services to the refugees. This week, we will announce a call for three-month health professional volunteers to assist TH in our response to the refugee crisis.
For more information, please visit TH's website: www.tiyatienhealth.org.
About Tiyatien Health: Founded in 2007 by survivors of Liberia’s civil war, Tiyatien Health (TH) is an innovative social justice organization partnering with rural communities and the Liberian government to advance health and the fundamental rights of the poor. Our model features a backbone of community health workers trained to accompany patients through their illnesses and beyond -- linking the destitute sick to jobs, agriculture and economic empowerment programs. This approach fills a crucial gap between health centers and the community, allowing the public sector to provide comprehensive care for people with complex illnesses like HIV and epilepsy that previously went unaddressed.