Access to medical care in Central African Republic: a major challenge for the internally displaced

Published: 17 April 2014 13:22 CET

Mirabelle Enaka Kima, IFRC

"I am 6 months pregnant. I am yet to start ante-natal visits because of lack of money. During my last medical visit to the camp’s health centre, all I received as medication were a few tablets of paracetamol,” says Florence Mongai, one of thousands of women forced to flee their homes due to ongoing violence in the Central African Republic.

Accessing quality health care is a huge challenge for Mongai and others like her, who now occupy small living quarters in one of the many camps set up for displaced people in Bangui. It is as much of a challenge for aid organizations which are desperately trying, under very difficult circumstances, to provide quality health care. “Health care in camps is provided by mobile teams. However, medical coverage is below expectation," admits Dr Fernand Gbagba, head of health and social action at the Central African Red Cross Society. “We are all doing what we can, given the challenging environment, but we need to do better, and for that we need enhanced support from the international community.”

At the airport camp, Carine Gombor, a single mother of one month old Merveille de Dieu, recounts the circumstances of her birth. "Like most of my neighbours, I came here last December. My ante-natal visits had to stop because of the violence. For safety reasons, no one dares to move away from the camp. My baby was delivered under difficult conditions. She was born on site thanks to the help of my neighbours who had some experience in the childbirth process. Even after the birth of my daughter, no health care was provided. She has not had any vaccines. I do not have enough milk to breastfeed her because I eat very little."

"Pregnancy kits were placed in a single referral hospital, which only partially meets the needs of expectant mothers. Many deliveries are dealt with at the camps without the help of qualified medical staff. Moreover, a large number of cases of acute malnutrition, diarrhoea related diseases, and skin and respiratory infections are being recorded at the camps. This affects mostly children up to the age of 15 years,” says Dr Gbagba. “We desperately need additional support if we hope to properly care for these displaced families.”

Promotion of hygiene and sanitation by the Red Cross

With the rainy season now in full swing, the potential exists for the health situation in camps to deteriorate as exposure to waterborne diseases and malaria increases.

In an effort to ward off a disease outbreak, the Central African Red Cross Society has, to date, built 802 latrines in camps and schools in Bangui, and deployed 50 volunteers to raise awareness on good hygiene practices, as well as household waste management. The Red Cross also supplies drinking water to sites with high demand.

"We put special emphasis on water and sanitation in order to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera, and to ensure the improvement of living conditions in these camps,” says Mbao Bogo, President, of the Central African Red Cross Society. “We also extended our sanitation activities to schools to rehabilitate latrines that had been vandalized.

Volunteers of the Central African Red Cross Society spare no effort in helping the victims of violence. However, there are high expectations and we need the necessary support," adds the President.

Today, an estimated 625,000 people are internally displaced in the Central African Republic as a result of violence and inter-communal conflict which erupted in the country last December. More than 200,000 are living in 42 camps in Bangui, struggling to survive with hunger and exposed to waterborne diseases and malaria infection. 

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched an emergency appeal to support the Central African Red Cross Society in providing assistance to 50,000 people through emergency health, water, sanitation and hygiene promotion, as well as sharing messages of peace and non-violence. This appeal also aims to strengthen the capacity of the Central African Red Cross volunteers, who have been mobilized since the start of the crisis to provide assistance to those affected.


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