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Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Access to healthcare is severely limited due to a lack of facilities, resources and qualified staff.

A former Portugese colony, the West African country of Guinea-Bissau is home to 1.9 million people.

Guinea-Bissau has been plagued by political instability for decades, resulting in a lack of development and weak public services. Healthcare is severely limited due to insufficient resources and qualified staff. 

Since independence in 1974, the country has been subjected to considerable military and political upheaval.

The country is one of the largest producers of cashew nuts, which provides a modest living for farmers and is the main source of foreign exchange.

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) first worked in Guinea-Bissau in 1998. Our work in the country involves responding to endemic and epidemic diseases.

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MSF's work in Guinea-Bissau: 2020

For nearly six years, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been working in Guinea-Bissau to improve paediatric care. In 2020, we ended our activities, handing many over to the health ministry. 

Our overall objective in Guinea-Bissau was to reduce the number of deaths in the under-15 age group in areas of the country which had some of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. The main diseases affecting children are respiratory infections, malaria, diarrhoea and meningitis. Among newborns, the leading causes of death are asphyxia and neonatal sepsis.

We managed the 15-bed paediatric emergency room as well as the paediatric and neonatal intensive care units (with a total of 64 beds) in the country’s only tertiary facility, Simão Mendes national hospital, in the capital Bissau. We established a triage system in the paediatric emergency unit to guarantee faster and more efficient treatment.

We also supported Ministry of Health staff with management skills development and training, both for their regular activities and for the COVID-19 responseWe also supported Ministry of Health staff with management skills development and training, both for their regular activities and for the COVID-19 response.

Neonatal care requires many resources, but MSF proved it was possible to go beyond the basics, and treat the most complex and critical patients by introducing new protocols and technologies that are not usually in place in low-income countries. 

When our teams left in June 2020, we handed over not only the facilities, but also biomedical equipment, pharmaceutical products, a specialist laboratory for emergency services, and a knowledgeable, experienced and enthusiastic team.

MSF's work in Guinea-Bissau: 2019

The focus of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) activities in Guinea-Bissau is paediatric care. The main diseases affecting children in the country are respiratory infections, malaria, diarrhoea and meningitis; for newborns, the principal causes of death are asphyxia and neonatal sepsis. 

Our teams manage the paediatric emergency room as well as the paediatric and neonatal intensive care units in the country’s only tertiary facility, Simão Mendes national hospital, in the capital, Bissau. We have established a triage system in the paediatric emergency unit to guarantee faster and more efficient treatment and have worked closely with the Ministry of Health to ensure that the correct protocols and treatment procedures are implemented to reduce child mortality. 

Measles vaccination in Bafata, Guinea-Bissau

We also support Ministry of Health staff with training and management skills development. Neonatal care requires many resources, but we have proved it is possible to go beyond the basics by introducing new protocols and technologies that are not usually in place in low-income countries. In order to address the needs of our most complex and critical patients, we have introduced new tools and technologies, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices for respiratory problems, incubators, C-reactive protein (CRP) tests for sepsis diagnosis, and specific infection prevention and control protocols. 

 find out more in our international activity report >