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Alarming sanitary conditions prevail in Congo-Brazzaville's Pool region

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Brazzaville - Despite stabilization of Republic of Congo's south-eastern Pool region following the signing of a peace agreement in 2003, the state of health of the area's inhabitants remains precarious. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges Republic of Congo (RoC) and its ministry of health to assume their responsibilities by providing health services to this neglected population.

Although the area is no longer considered to be in a state of urgent humanitarian crisis, health needs treated by the MSF team in the Pool are more typical of chronic crisis than of a stable situation.

Although the 2003 peace agreement has led to a drop in violence and increased freedom of movement in the Pool area, local healthcare services and infrastructure as well as medical equipment are still lacking. In addition, medical professionals fear working in a region that has still not been disarmed, which has kept their numbers too low to meet residents' needs.

Data from the Congolese ministry of health show that the Pool has only one doctor per 30,000 inhabitants (versus six per 30,000 in the rest of the country) and no more than one nurse per 12,574 inhabitants (compared to nine per 12,574 in the rest of RoC).

In July 2006, MSF performed a health assessment of the population of the Pool region. Results revealed several troubling indicators, including an alarming mortality rate for children under the age of five (2.2 deaths/10,000 children: the "acceptable" rate in stable regions of sub-Saharan Africa is 1.16 deaths/10,000 children).

The assessment also exposed a high overall mortality rate (0.80 deaths/10,000 inhabitants, compared to 0.5 deaths/10,000 inhabitants in similar contexts in sub-Saharan Africa). Maternal mortality rate are also several times higher than the national average. The findings regarding obstetric care, immunizations and death from malaria were equally troubling.

Early this month, following a round table organised by MSF in Brazzaville, the country's capital, MSF provided the RoC's Minister of Health with the full findings and the summary report of its health assessment.

With a view to addressing the considerable medical needs of the inhabitants of the Pool region and improving their state of health, MSF strongly encourages Republic of Congo and the ministry of health to take greater responsibility in providing healthcare to this population.

"The recent polio vaccination project that took place at the initiative of the health ministry gives us hope that more healthcare services can be brought to the inhabitants of Pool," declared Judy McConnery, head of the MSF mission in RoC.

MSF manages two projects that provide secondary healthcare in two hospitals, and basic healthcare in various clinics in the districts of Mindouli, Kindamba and Vindza. In addition to caring for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis patients, MSF also offers maternity care, pediatric care and psychosocial counselling to the entire population of the Pool region, including vulnerable groups such as children and pregnant women.