North-east Crisis: MSF Raises the Alarm over Growing Mental Illness


Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) otherwise called ‘Doctors Without Borders’ has raised the alarm over growing mental ailment in some parts of the troubled North-east region.

In a statement issued yesterday in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, the group lamented that desperate living conditions and lack of protection have aggravated the mental health of the people in parts of the region.

The humanitarian group called for urgent reinforcement of humanitarian response in the troubled area.

The statement said: “Desperate living conditions and lack of protection in Pulka are exacerbating the people’s acute mental health needs. There is an urgent need for reinforcement of the humanitarian response in Pulka.

“Life in Pulka is not easy. The town is close to the frontline of the conflict between the military and non-state armed groups, a situation that has devastated the North-east Nigeria for the past decade.

“Of its population of around 71,000, more than 40,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Borno State, and with no civil authorities present, Pulka is completely controlled by the military.

“People’s movements are limited to a short distance beyond the town’s perimeter to farm, but many people do not feel safe going even that far.

“The inhabitants’ most basic needs, especially shelter, clean water and sanitation, are not properly covered. Some 12,000 displaced people are currently staying in Pulka’s ‘transit camp’; some of them are even living in the open for months. They are surviving on less than three litres of water a day, far below the 15 to 20 litres of water per person daily recommended by international humanitarian standards for emergencies.”

MSF further lamented that: “The displaced people have already fled violent conflict and lost their livelihoods. At the backdrop of this, the desperate living conditions and lack of protection in Pulka are exacerbating the people’s acute mental health needs.”

One of those whose mental health has been affected in the crisis is Mohammed Abba, 50, who fled his village with his two wives and 10 children, after it was taken over by an armed group.

Abba left behind everything he owned, and with his family now in Monguno, he is 200 kilometre to the South in Pulka’s camp 4.

On arrival in Pulka, he felt alone and was despondent at having to depend on aid for his survival. He said: “I felt heaviness on my chest as if my heart was swelling up. I was thinking too much; sometimes I’d just be shedding tears, as I found it difficult to sleep at night. When I eventually found sleep, I always dreamt of my nine relatives who were killed in front of us by armed men in Nguroseye before we fled the town.”

These traumatic experiences have made Abba to have mental health problems for which he is receiving support from MSF, as one of the 1,863 people receiving mental health and psychosocial support from MSF in Pulka between January and June this year.

For 80- year-old Mariya, life seems meaningless after four of her nine children were killed in the crisis. Eventually, only elderly people were left in their village, she said.

Mariya, who is now depressed and anxious about the future, said the Nigerian military arrived in their village on patrol and transported them to Pulka.

he statement said one in 25 patients has a severe mental health disorder with psychiatric symptoms. As well as counselling, MSF also provides pharmacological treatment for patients with severe mental disorders