It’s over 1,000 days now since an Australian doctor, Ken Elliott, was kidnapped in Djibo, Burkina Faso, on 15 January, 2016.
His abduction was claimed by the ‘Emirate of the Sahara’, a branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Dr. Elliott, with his wife, had run a 120-bed clinic in Djibo for over 40 years until their abduction. Jocelyn Elliott was released in February 2016. She said at the time that she would not leave Burkina Faso, but their clinic is no longer operating.
Human rights activist and journalist Gideon Vink, based in Burkina Faso, posted on Facebook about his recent visit to Djibo, where he was shown Dr. Elliott’s hospital.
“The hospital seems to be deserted but it is still well-maintained by some goodwill volunteers. And it looks like they are waiting for the doctor to come back and resume his service and welcome patients,” wrote Vink.
Dubbed ‘the Doctor of the Poor’, Dr. Elliott was providing free treatment, saving patients significant amounts of money. Since the closure of his clinic, people have been forced to travel via poor transport links hundreds of miles to the capital, Ouagadougou, for medical care. They lack financial resources for travel, accommodation and the treatment itself. This is affecting children and the elderly in particular.
“For 1,000 days, the poorest of the poor no longer have access to affordable healthcare,” said Vink. “While in Djibo, I heard testimonies of people who had their cousin, their sister, their mother treated by Dr. Elliott. The doctor, after 1,000 days of captivity, is now 84 and it is not the right age to be detained somewhere in the desert.”
Recognising the landmark, his wife and son posted a plea on Facebook for his release: Elliott’s wife, Jocelyn, spoke in Fulani to address those who apparently hold the doctor.
“May peace be with you and your families,” she said, “I am grateful to those who decided to release me unconditionally in February 2016. Dr. Elliott is living his last years and I ask you to release him too.
“My husband did not have an easy and comfortable life: 46 years ago, he chose to raise his family among you, our friends and our neighbours. With God’s help, he performed thousands of operations and saved many lives. Those who asked for help often came from afar, they came to us at any time of day or night.”
Jocelyn Elliott also thanked the people of Djibo for support and expressed her wish to be reunited with her husband so they could “spend our last years of life together”.
Dr. Elliott’s son, David, who spoke in French, also asked the kidnappers to release his father.
“I humbly ask you this question: does he not deserve your generosity? It has been a long time since we heard of my father’s health. He is an elderly man, and we are very worried. We would like to be able to communicate with you about his health,” said David.
In January this year, thousands took to the streets of Djibo to call for the government to secure Dr. Elliott’s release and to protest that the state had not kept its promise to re-open the only medical clinic in the town. An open letter addressed to the president, read aloud, requested that the clinic be continued. Residents, however, are still waiting.