International Medical Corps’ Gender Based Violence Program is providing services to approximately half of the 80,000 refugees that have fled from their homes to Cameroonian villages due to violence in the Central African Republic. Among the refugees, an estimated 41% have been affected by sexual violence, according to the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI). The Gender Based Violence (GBV) program instituted by International Medical Corps has treated 2400 victims of psychological, economic, physical, and sexual violence as of March 2010. Alongside International Corps’ mobile clinics providing primary health care in the region, the GBV program includes psychological counseling, social reinsertion, and the training and practice of community health workers and educators.
International Medical Corps’ “counseling room” is an inpatient ward at the Djohong Hospital where women and men stay and receive intensive psychological therapy for severe depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since August 2009, 1700 women have been treated by the 2 trained International Medical Corps psychologists. The efforts were validated when in March 2010, 66% of refugee women rated their mental health as excellent when 75% of refugee women had previously rated their mental health as poor before entering Cameroon.
The consequences of sexual violence often results in pregnancy, abandonment by the husband, and even more violence. To help women and children cope with their pasts and re-integrate with their communities, International Medical Corps provides funds and books to enable 24 girls (ages 7-12) who are victims of rape and sexual violence to attend school. The Social Reinsertion Program teaches women who have been stigmatized by rape how to sew and dressmake with a local tailor; women are then able support themselves upon returning to their community.
International Medical Corps’ staff has trained 53 community health workers and 30 peer educators since August 2009. The program has raised awareness on HIV, STIs, hygiene, and sexual health and violence. It is believed that due to International Medical Corps’ emphasis on community education, the social stigma on sexual violence and rape is decreasing and the population is now in turn reporting incidences of violence with a rise from 16% in June 2009 to 35% in June 2010.
Along with education and awareness workshops for HIV, International Medical Corps’ Gender Based Violence program also tests for HIV and provides counseling, treatment, and transportation to therapy once per month. Dr. Cecilia Kohn states that of the women who were raped and agreed to be tested, 54 out of 99 tested positive and 20 of the women who were positive agreed for therapy. The women would not be able to receive anti-retroviral therapy if International Medical Corps’ did not provide transportation to the hospital several hours away.
International Medical Corps’ efforts with the refugee population in Cameroon are made possible by the United Nations Development Fund for Women.