Working in two displacement camps in Bangui, International Medical Corps is responding to the urgent health needs of communities affected by violence in the Central African Republic (CAR). In the first 2 weeks of operation in Bangui, International Medical Corps treated a total of 6,613 patients, with children under 5 accounting for 39% of them. International Medical Corps’ midwives also provided 488 pregnant women with antenatal consultations and delivered 34 healthy babies. Malaria consultation rates were high at the opening of the clinics (61% on December 15), but have since dropped to 28% of consultations as of December 21 due to improved access to health services in the camps.
International Medical Corps, which has worked in remote, underserved areas of CAR since 2007, expanded its services to the capital Bangui in response to the recent escalation of violence. The security situation is deteriorating in Bangui, with daily intermittent shootings occurring between December 22-25. Persistent violence has displaced 510,000 people in Bangui (more than half of the city’s population). Most urgent needs are for food assistance, access to water, medical support, and shelter. International Medical Corps is reinforcing its surge capacity with a team of specialists in public health, mental health, and protection ready to deploy as the security situation permits.
“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.”
On December 14, International Medical Corps set up temporary clinics at two camps in Bangui, St. Paul’s (20,000 IDPs) and St. Bernard’s (10,000 IDPs). 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. In addition to malaria cases, the team has 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 anemic. We rushed them to the nearest pediatric 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 activities in Vakaga and Haute-Kotto Prefectures are continuing without interruption, with a team in place ensuring continued support for health and nutrition services. In addition, International Medical Corps is preparing to take over as the principal provider for health, nutrition, and water, sanitation and hygiene for three refugee camps: Bambari, Zemio and Batalimo.
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.