Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
December 16, 2013 – Working in two displacement camps in Bangui, International Medical Corps is responding to the urgent health needs of more than 30,000 people affected by violence in the Central African Republic (CAR). Malaria was confirmed in 63% of the cases seen by International Medical Corps staff on its first day of operation.
International Medical Corps, which has worked in remote, underserved areas of CAR since 2007, has expanded its services to the capital Bangui in response to the recent escalation of violence there. The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is increasing as the security and humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. There are now an estimated 614,000 (IDPs) across the country, 189,000 of them in Bangui, mainly seeking refuge at religious sites and the airport. Most urgent needs are for food assistance, access to water, medical support, and shelter.
“Many families are sheltering in the church, sleeping on the floor between the pews,” says Laura Jepson, Project Reporting Officer, following a visit to St Bernard’s Church where 10,000 people are taking refuge. “Others are staying in the surrounding buildings, but unfortunately many simply sleep outside, with no protection from the elements. The situation is desperate.”
She continues: “The cramped living conditions combined with the lack of water, food, and latrines will result in the deterioration of the health and nutritional status of the people here. We are particularly concerned about the most vulnerable, such as young children, pregnant women and the elderly.”
Over the weekend, International Medical Corps set up temporary clinics at two camps in Bangui, St. Paul’s and St. Bernard’s. Each site is equipped with essential medicines and equipment, and has a team of doctors, nurses, midwives, and a pharmacist, as well as a team of community health workers.
International Medical Corps is providing outpatient consultations, prioritizing testing and treatment for malaria; antenatal consultations and safe deliveries for pregnant women; nutritional screening and treatment for severely malnourished children; measles and polio vaccinations; treatment for survivors of sexual violence; and promotion of key health, hygiene and nutrition messages.
On Sunday, International Medical Corps conducted 327 consultations, more than half of them children under 5. In addition to malaria cases, the team also treated many cases of respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, and malnutrition.
“The clinics were packed with people,” says Jepson. “The sound of so many children crying and coughing was heart-breaking. Test after test was showing positive for malaria. I will never forget the distraught face of one young mother who held her limp baby in arms; he was severely anaemic. We rushed them to the nearest paediatric hospital for treatment.”
She concludes: “The medical team is doing an incredible job working under immense pressure and in difficult conditions. These people have suffered so much, but we are relieved that they will at least now be able to access the health care they desperately need.”
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.