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A ceasefire to save lives

Dr Sekou's Story


How a doctor negotiated with rebel forces to stop the fighting

A ceasefire to save lives

CAR Conflict|Negotiations|Vaccination campaign

Dr. Sekou Conde has the steely, unflappable demeanour of a man who has lived and worked in dangerous environments most of his adult life. He is used to seeing suffering, and to doing everything in his power to stop it.

As a public health technical advisor for International Medical Corps he trains health workers in some of the most remote, hardest-hit conflict zones.

In January of 2014, he travelled to the Central African Republic (CAR) to provide technical assistance to teams operating in a country embroiled in a worsening civil war.

The previous March, rebel forces had seized CAR’s capital of Bangui, forcing 700,000 people throughout the country to flee their homes. In all, more than 4 million people – almost half of them children – were directly affected by the crisis. International Medical Corps, which has worked in CAR since 2007, increased support in CAR as the violence escalated and spread throughout the country.

Dr. Sekou arrived to discover that there was an outbreak of measles in the region around Bria in the central part of the country. Already, there were 123 cases – an epidemic was in progress. Bria was one of the towns in the grip of the rebels and delivering humanitarian assistance, including vaccinations for children, had become near-impossible for the International Medical Corps health workers and community mobilisers working there.

Dr. Sekou knew what had to be done. He would have to meet with the commander of the rebels, try to negotiate for their soldiers to put down their weapons in a ceasefire and allow medical teams to access the area and organise a vaccination campaign. Many of Dr. Sekou’s colleagues told him it was too dangerous.

“Some didn’t want anyone to think that in meeting with the commander we were associating with rebels. But as humanitarians we know that we don’t associate with rebels and that we have to do whatever is necessary to help people in need.”

Starting the vaccination campaign

Two weeks later, he and colleagues from the World Health Organisation travelled to the home of the rebel commander. “We met his wife and children. He was quite friendly. He realised these vaccination activities were for his own community. He said ‘we will make sure it is safe’. When we got the authorisation from the commander we immediately mobilised our volunteers and health workers.”

Local authorities reached out to inform the community, mobilisers issued announcements in public areas and broadcast messages on the radio. One week after Dr. Sekou’s meeting, the vaccination campaign began.

Within five days, International Medical Corps had vaccinated 13,247 children, ages 6 months to 15 years, at 9 sites. During that same campaign, a mass nutrition screening was also conducted, with 5,841 children checked for malnutrition.

Dr. Sekou, a father of four, reflects on that achievement of saving lives and training even in the most difficult, challenging locations.

I knew I could have a much bigger impact

We have to be there

Immunisations in Central African Republic

I realised a long time ago, when I was working in a city hospital, that it wasn’t where I could help people the most. I was just managing consequences. I knew I could have a much bigger impact in places like CAR. And the training is so important. It improves the quality of our services.

These people are in the community and are in charge of their own health consequences. We have to be there to help these people.

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