The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the world’s least-developed nations, according to the United Nations’ Human Development Index. The CAR is ranked 185th out of 187 countries, above only the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Niger. According to the same index, those living in the Central African Republic face a dismal life expectancy of only 48 years, compared with over 80 years in the United Kingdom. Out of 1,000 live births, 129 babies die from easily treatable illnesses, and malaria is the leading cause of death among the under 5’s. The country’s history since its independence from France in 1960 has been an unstable one, plagued by human rights abuses, coups, and ethnic and sectarian violence.
In the last few years, the situation has got drastically worse. The outbreak of war in December 2012 resulted in thousands of deaths and approximately 1 million displaced people out of a population of 5 million. During the most critical stage of the conflict, after the coup d’état in March 2013, EMERGENCY’s Paediatric Centre stayed open and our staff intensified their work, visiting the main refugee camps that had sprung up near the capital. Today, the situation in the capital, Bangui, is more stable, but the apparent calm is often interrupted by riots, armed street fights and common crime, keeping the city in a tense state of alert.
In March 2009, with co-funding from the European Union (EuropeAid), EMERGENCY opened a Paediatric Centre in the capital city Bangui in order to provide healthcare to children up to 14 years of age. The Centre is open 24 hours a day and offers free-of-charge primary and emergency healthcare to all children under the age of 14 years old. The Centre also organises activities for health promotion for families, focusing on the fundamentals of hygiene and nutrition that are essential for children’s health.
Even now, more than 100 children come to our Paediatric Centre every day. The outpatient departments and wards are always full, as is the tent that was pitched in the hospital garden at the height of the conflict to provide extra beds.
Illnesses such as malaria, infections and typhoid fever were widespread even before the start of the war, but food shortages and harsher living conditions have made it even easier to fall ill, with the lack of safety convincing many mothers to put off the journey to the hospital as long as possible. Our staff have started working with a local organisation that runs small health centres, helping to train their staff in the treatment and transfer of emergency paediatric cases.