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Last Updated: Monday, 11 August, 2003, 19:52 GMT 20:52 UK
Diary of a Liberian aid worker IV
Medecins Sans Frontieres is one of the few aid agencies still working in Liberia.

Tom Quinn, who works for MSF, resumes his diary for BBC News Online after a break in Sierra Leone.

Tom Quinn
Tom Quinn who works for MSF in Liberia

1700 GMT, 11 August

The city has been in a very strange mood today.

Everyone has been standing around their radios waiting to find out what is happening with Charles Taylor.

Has he gone? Will he go? Can we believe he has?

Earlier on Monday, I drove a couple of people out to the airport.

All the way along there were thousands of people waiting to see him go.

Right now we are all peering out to sea where, for the first time, three American warships have come into view.

Presumably it is intended to send some kind of message.

Lack of medicine

It is very exciting for the people of the city, though, who want something, everything to change.

On the medical front, the change is all the wrong way.

Over the river in the Lurd-controlled areas we are getting a pretty clear view that medicines, clinics and staff are very, very thin on the ground.

When our team went over with the International Committee of the Red Cross to look around, the wounded were in a bad state.

And - depending on who they are - it is not easy to get them back to treat on this side.

There is some work starting up again at Redemption Hospital.

We have taken over some drugs and Liberian health workers are running a basic clinic there.

I'm going over there on Tuesday to take a full week's supply and to try to do the same for Clara Town.

Helping the displaced

But none of this is helped by the messy security situation still on this side.

Last night one of our warehouses was looted and lost about a third of its drugs, food and medical equipment.

Then there is the whole issue of the huge numbers of people we were helping in the displaced camps.

My boss, Alain, has been out to look around those more distant parts of the city under rebel control.

There were 50,000 people in them before the latest fighting.

Now it is down to 10,000 or 15,000.

Our clinics are still largely intact but the people have scattered, some of them almost certainly right out into the bush and beyond to the frontiers of Sierra Leone or Guinea.

They were often pretty weak and sick before the fighting swept over them.

And yet somehow they will be surviving... most of them.

1600 GMT, 8 August

The lull in the fighting has made a difference to what we can do.

Right now, some of our team, along with the International Red Cross, are trying to get across the front lines into the LURD - held area on Bushrod Island.

The idea is to pick up the injured and sick and to re-establish contact with any of our Liberian staff who have managed to stay at places like Redemption Hospital across the river there.

We had a preliminary look a couple of day ago and there were some bodies in the streets. Now we hope this trip will give us a proper view about how things are.

They're not great on this side of the lines. Yesterday afternoon I was out opening up a new clinic to take some of the strain off the compound here.

Nerve-wracking

It's only about four hundred metres away in the Catholic Nursing College. But that journey was a bit nerve-wracking; there are guns still going off all around the place and we were ducking and weaving.

There's no real fighting any more, just trigger-happy soldiery. But we picked up a child they had managed to hit in the leg.

We had 150 people through that clinic on Thursday. The normal complaints: malaria, diarrhoea and, worryingly, measles.

That could be another big threat. We're already starting a vaccination campaign to head it off.

Today I was out to start support for another clinic in the West Point area. It was always one of the poorest parts of town.

Now there are 50, 000 people crammed into what were already dreadful, shanty huts. They were right in the line of fire over the last three weeks - rockets and mortars raining down.

Fate

I'm hearing about all the things I missed while off in Sierra Leone. I met one of our guards who had only just been able to get back to his home in another part of town.

When he got there he found that his wife had been hit and killed by a bullet in the back, as she was nursing their child.

A Liberian doctor just missed a similar fate. One day he walked out of his front door just as a rocket went straight through the front and back walls.

A few seconds later getting up out of his chair and he would not have been with us any more.

Not surprisingly, everyone here is exhausted by it all.

1800 GMT, 6 August

It's good to be back. I know it sounds mad but it's true. As much as I needed and enjoyed the break in Sierra Leone there's no doubt that this is where I should be right now.

And it seems just in time.

For the first time in weeks the people are back on the street, hundreds and hundreds searching for food and nervously checking in on their homes to see what's left after the looting and shelling.

I see no smiling faces here today - just desperation and exhaustion. These people are sick to death of this war and pin all their hopes on the peacekeepers bringing it to an end.

They believe that as soon as US troops arrive, everything will be ok. I hope they're right but I'm not so sure.

Cholera

MSF is venturing out too. Until this week we've been trapped by the fighting in our compound, and have mostly only been able to treat the patients that come to our hospital here, not that that wasn't enough to keep the team working around the clock.

But we've been extremely anxious about the other clinics we have around the city. Particularly the cholera treatment units.

As it turns out one of the clinics managed to stay open throughout the fighting and we actually have fewer patients than before. But that's not necessarily a good sign. What it probably means is that people are dying in their homes.

If this calm continues we will no doubt see more, so we're trying to get the rest of the clinics restocked and staffed, and even open new ones.

Trapped

But the logistics are a nightmare. Fuel is running out and consequently transport has ground to halt.

So despite being more than willing, the staff simply can't get to work.

But the biggest challenge is without a doubt reaching the people trapped behind the frontline, with no access to medical treatment. Who knows what they're going through?

Before the fighting reached Monrovia we were working with up to 50,000 displaced in camps in the city's northern outskirts. They were starving back then. Who knows what's happening to them now?

I shiver at the thought.




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