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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 August, 2003, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Eyewitness: Monrovia's non-stop hospital
Dr Amilcar Contreras is a surgeon with the International Committee of the Red Cross working at the main JFK hospital in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, which has come under repeated rebel attack over the past month.

He told BBC News Online about the difficulties of prioritising in treating the casualties of Liberia's civil war, which has left many hundreds dead and thousands injured.


My life here in Monrovia is far from normal.

I work for 15-18 hours daily, seven days a week.

Patients at a Monrovia hospital
Patients receive treatment on a priority basis
I spend the rest of the time either reading, eating or sleeping.

And that is good because I am left with very little time to worry about my own personal safety in a country where death lives just round the corner.

I carry out 20-25 emergency surgeries at the JFK hospital daily with the help of my colleagues.

I attend only to the most serious cases. My principle is: save lives by treating first the most seriously wounded.

But almost all patients who come to the JFK hospital receive first aid treatment.

'Screaming'

The hospital compound is always full of people - patients, their relatives and many 'passers-by'.

Some of them just walk around the compound screaming.

They are either in great pain or they are suffering from the psychological effects of this horrible civil war.

Click below to see an interactive aerial image of Monrovia

But on Monday the situation was not too bad.

I attended to fewer emergency cases partly because of the lull in fighting between the government and the rebel fighters.

This gave me and my colleagues an opportunity to attend to other patients who have been here for between two and three weeks.

I hope that the arrival of the Nigerian peacekeepers will calm things down.

This will be a big relief to the many other patients who could benefit from our services

I have worked in Ivory Coast, Burundi and Sierra Leone, but Liberia has been particularly bad.

Occasionally one does get worried that things could go horribly wrong - that one could even get killed.

And that can be very stressful, but I have never really thought about quitting.

Rehabilitation

In fact after peace is fully restored in Liberia the services of the Red Cross - through people like me - will be required for some time to come.

Many thousands of Liberians will require psychological rehabilitation.

Hundreds of thousands of others - men, women and children - have suffered injuries that will require reconstructive surgery.

The arrival of the peacekeepers could be the beginning of another journey towards physical and psychological recovery.





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