In 2010, Médecins Sans Frontières was providing medical, psychological and social care to victims of sexual violence in two clinics in Guatemala City, as well as in the General Hospital and the Ministry of Justice, where assaults are reported. Although thousands of cases of sexual violence are reported each year, it is estimated that 75 per cent of sex crimes go unreported.
There is a national protocol in place for treating victims of sexual violence, but it has only been implemented at one clinic in the capital. Many survivors are unable to access treatment, and are often unaware that their physical and mental symptoms can be treated.
Médecins Sans Frontières’ programme takes a multidisciplinary approach to treating sexual violence. We offer medication that significantly reduces the likelihood of patients contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections if taken within 72 hours of the incident. In 2010 around 57 per cent of patients arrived early enough for this treatment to be effective. A psychological team provides counselling to help patients cope with the acute stress, anxiety and other effects arising from their experience. A social worker is also available and provides support by, for example, helping patients to find a safe place to stay if they are still in danger.
In 2010, our teams treated 870 new patients. Including those who had started treatment in previous years, 1,200 patients received medical care, and 2,800 received psychological counselling.
In the coming years, Médecins Sans Frontières aims to encourage more and better implementation of national guidelines in clinics. Teams will also use community information networks, medical conferences and the media to raise awareness that medication is available to help prevent the transmission of infections such as HIV, and that treatment must be sought as early as possible.
The eruption of volcano Pacaya and tropical storm Agatha at the end of May killed almost 200 people. Overflowing rivers, collapsed bridges and the damage caused by mudslides resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of people. Teams from Médecins Sans Frontières assisted people in the departments of Retalhuleu, Escuintla and Santa Rosa. Over 20 days, staff distributed hygiene kits (containing toothbrushes, soap, sanitary towels, buckets, etc.), and provided medical care, drinking water and mental health support to people affected by the flooding.
Médecins Sans Frontières has worked in Guatemala since 1984.
The impact of violence in Central America and Mexico cannot be understated, writes Dr Gustavo Fernandez.
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