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International Medical Corps Responds to Urgent Health Needs in Bangui

Friday, 13 December 2013 21:39 GMT

Living conditions among the displaced in CAR. Photo by Laura Jepson.

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

December 13, 2013 – Since December 5, fighting between the Seleka rebel coalition and anti-Balaka defense groups has escalated, resulting in more than 500 deaths and forcing tens of thousands of families to flee their homes in the Central African Republic (CAR). According to the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than half a million people are now displaced within the war-torn country; 127,000 of them are in the capital of Bangui, which has been at the center of the persisting violence.

The majority of people in Bangui have been seeking refuge at churches, religious sites and Bangui M’Poko International Airport, where they are afforded a certain level of protection by French troops. In addition, an unknown number of people are staying with host families or are hiding in the fields surrounding the city.

International Medical Corps recently visited three sites in Bangui - St Paul’s Church, St Bernard’s Church, and Boy-Rabe Monastery; each site is hosting in excess of 10,000 people during the day and up to 20,000 people at night. Laura Jepson, International Medical Corps’ Project Reporting Officer in CAR, spoke of her visit to a site in Boy-Rabe, a neighborhood that has been particularly affected by the recent violence:

“The first thing that struck me was the sheer number and density of people in the camp. Every inch of space was taken up; I have never seen anything like it. The next thing was the overwhelming smell - raw sewage combined with the dense smoke of hundreds of wood fires.

The living conditions are appalling. People have no shelter at all so are completely exposed to the elements. All they have to sleep on are thin woven mats on the floor, shoulder-to-shoulder with their neighbors. Many only have the few belongings they were able to grab when they fled their homes.

A lot of the compound had been turned to thick mud following the recent heavy rains. It’s hard to believe that people are so scared to return to their homes that they would rather stay here.

But among it all of the displaced populations strived to maintain some degree of normality – many women were cooking; children were playing; and recently washed clothes hung over bushes and branches to dry in the sun. There was even a stand selling mobile phone credit.”

During the assessment, International Medical Corps identified major health concerns at all of the sites. First, there are no health care services available for these displaced communities, although there is a clinic nearby. People are reporting that they are too scared to leave the site and cannot afford to pay the fees for services and treatment.

Furthermore, malaria is a serious problem, especially as the rainy season shows no signs of easing up. With no mosquito nets, the most vulnerable – particularly children, pregnant women, and the elderly – are at increased risk. The cramped, squalid living conditions expose the camp’s inhabitants to communicable diseases. Due to the lack of clean drinking water and latrines, there will inevitably be an increase in diarrheal diseases as well.

Starting December 14, International Medical Corps intends to set up clinics at St Paul’s and St Bernard’s, providing free basic primary health care services to 30,000 people. International Medical Corp’ CAR Country Director, Christian Mulamba explains:

Two International Medical Corps teams are being dispatched, consisting of nurses, midwives and health promoters. We have also identified nurses and midwives among the displaced population who are willing to assist our work. The teams will take a supply of core drugs, medicines and equipment with them and we have several large tents that can be used as temporary consultation rooms and pharmacies. We will work closely with community leaders, to make everyone aware of the services we are providing.”

International Medical Corps will provide outpatient consultations, prioritizing testing and treatment for malaria; antenatal consultations and safe deliveries for pregnant women; nutritional screening and treatment for severe acute malnutrition for children; measles and polio vaccinations; treatment for survivors of sexual violence; and promotion of key health, hygiene and nutrition messages.

International Medical Corps has been working in the Vakaga and Haute-Kotto Prefectures in northeast CAR since May 2007 providing basic primary and secondary health care, nutrition care and protection for IDPs, refugees and host populations within these prefectures. These areas are characterized by insecurity and periods of conflict between active rebel groups, which have had a devastating impact on health, education, and water and sanitation services in this part of the country, leaving thousands without access to basic services.

To keep up to date with our work in CAR, follow Laura on Twitter: @LauraJepson

Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, International Medical Corps’ mission has been consistent: relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster, and disease, by delivering vital health care services that focus on training. This approach of helping people help themselves is critical to returning devastated populations to self-reliance. For more information visit: www.InternationalMedicalCorps.org. Also see on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.