Old man killed in Sierra Leone stampede

2011-03-08 17:12

Freetown - An elderly man was trampled to death and a dozen people hurt in a stampede in Sierra Leone for free medical screening from the British Mercy Ship floating hospital, doctors said on Tuesday.

More than 5 000 people had crowded the national stadium in the capital Freetown on Monday for the free screening, nearly half of them arriving the night before.

"An aged man was trampled to death after a stampede. We have also admitted 12 others who are in a serious condition and need close medical attention," said Andrew Thomas, a doctor at the capital's Connaught Hospital.

Police said they were trying "to trace the identity of the dead man who was said to be suffering from elephantitis and had an eye problem".

Staff from the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, said they were overwhelmed by the turnout, with mothers and babies, men on crutches and bow-legged patients waiting in a queue more than a mile long.

10-month visit

Mercy Ships said in a statement on its website that it was deeply saddened by the tragedy, which happened when a crowd stormed the gate of the Freetown National Stadium.

"The occurrence of this incident in the course of activities intended to restore lives is tragic," Mercy Ships founder Don Stephens said.

The ship docked in Sierra Leone last week offering state-of-the-art medical care in the poverty-stricken West African nation for the next 10 months.

In the past 20 years the ship has visited Sierra Leone five times.

Rebuilding after a devastating civil war, the country ranked 158 out of 169 countries in the 2010 United Nations Human Development Index.

Its infant mortality rate is 123 per 1 000 births and there is only one dentist for every one million people.

Free health care policy

The country last year implemented a free health care policy for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under the age of five, but still faces serious challenges.

The Africa Mercy team, which has over 1 000 volunteers, will carry out procedures to remove tumours, correct cleft lips and palates and remove cataracts, among others.

One man waiting for medical screening told AFP he was hoping the doctors would operate on a large growth on the side of his head.

"I have carried this scar for six years and most time[s] I don't venture out [in] to the public because of that," he said.

A 35-year-old woman told how she was knocked down by a cyclist three years ago and local doctors had told her that one of her legs that was bent as a result and could not be straightened.

"I have been told that the ship's doctors can do this," she said.