With about half of the health facilities in strife-torn Central African Republic (CAR) having been looted, the United Nations today appealed for immediate additional resources to scale up efforts to meet the country's significant health needs.
Prior the crisis that began over a year ago, CAR had some of the worst global health indicators, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). For example, the country had the sixth-highest child mortality and the third-highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
The already weak health system has now virtually collapsed. During the conflict, health facilities have been looted and medical staff have fled their posts. The lack of essential medicines, supplies and health professionals has seriously impeded the provision of primary and secondary health care.
The conflict in CAR erupted when Séléka rebels launched attacks in December 2012 and has taken on increasingly sectarian overtones as mainly Christian militias known as anti-Balaka (anti-machete) have taken up arms. Thousands of people are believed to have been killed, and 2.2 million, about half the population, need humanitarian aid.
More than 650,000 people are still internally displaced, with more than 232,000 in the capital, Bangui, alone. This includes 70,000 people who are still living at a site for internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the airport in appalling conditions which are set to worsen dramatically with the onset of the rainy season. Over 290,000 people have also fled to neighbouring countries.
Tarik Jasarevic, WHO spokesperson in Geneva, told reporters that health workers are among the displaced and are not able to go to their places of work. Displaced people are facing numerous health risks, such as malaria, water-borne illnesses and respiratory infections.
"The rainy season is coming, which will bring additional health risks," Mr. Jasarevic warned.
Malaria, a major health risk in CAR, has decreased over the previous several weeks, but could be expected to increase again, he noted. WHO and its partners are distributing bed nets and ensuring that rapid diagnostic tests are available and patients are treated in a timely and effective manner.
Mr. Jasarevic added that WHO had, for the first time, mapped all the health facilities in the country, which is essential for planning purposes and prioritizing interventions.
Funding will be crucial, he stressed, in order to scale up interventions, particularly outside the capital, Bangui. WHO requires $16.1 million to cover its health response activities in the country through December 2014.