About nine thousand children from seriously afflicted Central African Republic are now protected against measles and polio, following the emergency intervention in Gadzi, north-eastern Central African Republic, which started in August after Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams detected people were lacking access to health facilities in this area.
In addition to preventing diseases through vaccination, children under five years old received vitamin A supplements and were de-wormed. The intervention in Gadzi is one of four emergency projects opened in the country last April when the coup by the Séléka armed group coalition plunged the country into political and social turmoil, causing the displacement of more than 280,000 people.
Besides the vaccination campaign that lasted one week, so far more than five thousand medical consultations – more than half of them for malaria – have been carried out in the seven health centres MSF is supporting in the area. The rest of diseases or other health issues are ones common to people forced to flee from their homes and living in the open: respiratory infections, water-borne diseases (intestinal parasites) or skin infections.
Malaria, malnutrition also treated
Malaria is one of the main concerns of the MSF teams working in Central African Republic. Endemic in the country, it is one of the leading causes of mortality. In Gadzi alone, 77 patients had to be admitted for care urgently because of severe malaria, or malaria combined with other sicknesses. Of those, 56 patients had to be referred to hospitals with more resources because of the seriousness of their condition.
The emergency intervention also included a nutritional component as there was a fear that displacement might bring about food problems, particularly amongst the youngest. A total of 151 children were admitted as outpatients (receiving supplementary food to take away), while 19 required admission because their malnutrition was aggravated by other conditions such as measles or malaria.
The vaccination campaign was also used to evaluate children’s nutritional status. Although it was only undertaken in Topia because of access difficulties (roads become impassable during the rainy season) and also lack of security due to the presence of combatants in the area, the campaign managed to cover 96 per cent of the children initially planned.
Throughout the intervention medical and non-medical staff have been trained to treat the most common diseases in the area, including acute malnutrition. The team has completed the intervention in the coming days by donating the medicines, therapeutic food and medical material needed to guarantee patients complete their treatment. Children requiring intensive nutritional treatment are referred to the hospital in the neighbouring town, Carnot, also supported by MSF.
Gadzi is the fourth emergency project opened following the violent takeover by the (now dissolved) Séléka armed group coalition, last April. The situation of thousands of internally displaced people seeking refuge in the bush and the fields near their villages, which they are afraid to return to, has been complicated by the arrival of the rainy season and with it the proliferation of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Political events compound people’s dire health needs
Despite staff having scaled up its activities in the area, MSF urges more external support and aid for people living in Central African Republic, a country going through the most critical and difficult times in its recent history. With less than five million inhabitants, a life expectancy barely reaching 48 years of age, and a coup every decade or so, it is one of the poorest countries in the world, one whose needs have been compounded by the latest political events.
The end of the vaccination campaign in Gadzi coincides with the reopening of another emergency project in Bouca, in the north of the country, where the teams had to be evacuated from after being seriously threatened by armed groups controlling the area. The teams witnessed attacks against people on 9 September, in a new wave of violence affecting Bouca and the neighbouring area of Bossangoa.
Presumed supporters of the recently overthrown president François Bozizé and of Séléka were responsible for the attacks against civilians including mass executions, shooting and hacking to death with machetes, and entire neighbourhoods being burnt down. MSF has repeatedly condemned these incidents on a number of occasions. After obtaining security guarantees from the current transition government, the teams have returned to Bouca, where the project also focuses on mother and child healthcare and emergency cases.
MSF operates two other emergency projects in Bossangoa and Bria, while running regular projects in Zemio, Boguila, Paoua, Carnot, Kabo, Batangafo and Ndélé.