Continued insecurity in the Central African Republic (CAR) is putting progress against common childhood illnesses at risk, the medical charity Merlin has warned.
Nearly three months after the Seleka coup, two thirds of CAR’s population (3.2 million people) remain cut off from health services. But with 206,000 people having been forced to flee their homes the need for medical aid is soaring – particularly amongst children, who are the most vulnerable to illnesses and malnutrition.
Merlin - the only British charity working in CAR - has warned that the start of the rainy season is likely to increase the risk of malaria and water-borne diseases spreading.
The charity has already launched a mass vaccination campaign which will reach 125,000 children in response to an outbreak of measles in Bangui and Bouar.
Basic healthcare has always been a luxury in CAR. Even before the coup, with 1 in 10 children dying before their fifth birthday the country has the sixth highest rate of under-5 mortality in the world. Although child survival rates have increased in recent years,* gains have been fragile.
A staggering 48% of children have never been vaccinated for measles – a rate which is very low at the best of times. In a conflict where families have been forced to flee their homes and are cut off from healthcare, this can be the difference between life and death.
Arvind Das, Merlin Country Director for CAR said that: “Insecurity and banditry have forced health workers across the country to flee and left clinics looted. Yet fighting and displacement always results in urgent need for medical care – whether for injuries or because children are living in crowded, unsanitary conditions.”
“Most families are unable to access those few clinics and hospitals which are still open. We can be sure that this is causing needless loss of life – particularly amongst children under 5 who are much more vulnerable when faced with life-threatening but treatable illnesses.”
“Merlin is no stranger to working in conflict and has been providing healthcare throughout this crisis but security urgently needs to improve so that we can reach more people. Otherwise CAR is in danger of losing the fragile gains which have been made in child health in recent years.”
*168 per 1,000 lives births in 2007 compared to 164 in 2012, according to UNICEF
Elodie, 20-year-old refugee from neighbouring DR Congo, Batalimo Camp and Leocadie, her 18-month-old daughter
In Batalimo camp – normally home to 6,000 refugees from neighboring DR Congo - residents are beginning to return after having fled when Seleka troops arrived. Many, like Elodie, were forced to flee again from the place where they sought refuge from conflict and violence in their own country.
Elodie, her husband and two children spent three weeks in the bush after armed groups arrived in Batalimo. She recalls: “When the Seleka military arrived at Batalimo, uncontrolled soldiers entered the camps with their guns.”
Her 18-month-old daughter Leocadie was severely malnourished at the time and receiving treatment at a Merlin clinic. This life-saving support came to an end when the family was forced to flee and sleep in the open for three weeks – during which Leocadie became weaker and weaker.
Thankfully Leocadie is now receiving nutritional support from Merlin again and regaining weight. Yet her story is shared by countless children all over the country - always the most vulnerable in a crisis.
NOTES TO EDITORS
Seleka seized control of CAR on 24th March 2013, causing fighting and displacement which has dramatically increased humanitarian need. All 4.6 million people in CAR have been affected by the crisis, and over 206,000 are still internally displaced. Before the coup, children faced a one in 10 chance of dying before their fifth birthday.
Merlin has been in CAR since 2007 and provided medical aid in Bangui, Nana Mambere, Batalimo, Rafai and Obo throughout the coup and subsequent crisis. Merlin is the health cluster co-lead behind the World Health Organisation (WHO) in CAR.
Merlin (www.merlin.org.uk) is an international health charity, saving lives in the world’s toughest places. Merlin responds with healthcare when people are overwhelmed by natural disaster, conflict or disease. After the immediate crisis, Merlin stays on to assist recovery – building resilience so that those at risk of future health disasters are better prepared. Merlin is a force for health.
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Merlin is an international health charity, saving lives in the world’s toughest places. Merlin responds with healthcare when people are overwhelmed by natural disaster, conflict or disease and are in need of immediate help.
Merlin will stay on after a crisis to assist recovery. Using medical expertise, Merlin supports health workers to strengthen existing health services and build the resilience of communities by helping those at risk of future disasters to be better prepared. For further information please go to: www.merlin.org.uk