31 December 2013

Central African Republic: Blood Bank Runs Low As Central African Republic Fighting Mounts

Photo: Susanna Flood/Amnesty International
An IDP camp in Bangui.

Blood reserves are running low in the Central African Republic leaving those in need of life saving transfusions with little hope of survival as machete-based violence escalates, a medical charity said on Tuesday.

Emergency, a Milan-based organisation providing medical care in conflict zones, sent out an SOS over the weekend asking for aid workers in CAR to donate their own blood as fighting in the capital Bangui prevented voluntary donors from making the journey to give blood.

"Doctors are struggling to treat people with serious wounds, or children with anaemia - a consequence of malaria," said Ombretta Pasotti, medical coordinator at Emergency's paediatric centre in Bangui.

"We tried taking blood from the relatives of patients, but we've found that the vast majority are too sick to give blood, or have blood infections like HIV," Pasotti added. "We are now asking journalists and aid workers to personally donate as much blood as possible." She said all medical organisations in CAR used the same blood bank.

A new spate of violence erupted earlier this month when Christian militia launched revenge attacks on mainly Muslim Seleka rebels. The country's Christian majority say the rebels have been killing, looting and abusing the population since seizing power in the mineral rich nation in March.

Human rights groups report that more than 1,000 people have been killed in violence between the rebels and militias in December alone. The United Nations says over 800,000 have fled their homes.

CAR's health system has collapsed amid looting by rebels, militias and associated groups, leaving just a handful of international organisations to provide medical support to a population of around 4.5 million.

"We're getting by on a day-to-day basis, but this cannot continue. In emergency situations, we don't have time to call relatives or wait to find blood. If patients come in after the curfew, their chances of survival are even more limited," Pasotti told Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Bangui.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said a 1,600-strong French peacekeeping mission supporting African troops has failed to restore security. Thousands of people have fled Rwandan-style executions, stonings and rape during the Christmas period.

The number of injured people arriving at MSF's Hopital Communitaire has risen to around 15-20 per day and many have machete wounds.

An official from the World Health Organisation said 55 people, including 10 U.N. staff members, had come forward to give blood since the SOS call put out by Emergency, but added that there was a chance of further shortages if the insecurity continued.

Human rights organisations have criticised both Muslim Seleka rebels and Christian militia for the tit-for-tat violence, though many say the conflict is more a battle over resources, than religion.

French President Francois Hollande told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by telephone on Friday he wanted greater U.N. involvement in CAR to help the struggling alliance of French and African troops.

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