In Central African Republic, A Hospital Comes Back to Life
“Only people with relative wealth could afford to come here while the poor people were left to die if they got seriously ill,” says the International Rescue Committee’s Charles Muganda, who is overseeing a program to vastly improve services at the hospital and offer them at no cost to patients in need. “Now we’re treating as many as 200 patients a day and the numbers keep growing.”
Charles says news that the IRC is ensuring free health care for the region’s vulnerable is spreading. During the first week of the program, the district’s mayor arranged for trucks with loudspeakers to drive through neighborhoods to alert the community. “If you are sick, come to the hospital,” the message went. “It’s now free.”
So far most of the patients are residents of the impoverished town or people who fled there from violence-torn villages in the area. But Charles says others are trickling in from towns like Ouandago, nearly 50 kilometers away, where all health services came to a halt because of ongoing fighting between soldiers and insurgents.
“I met a mother last week who walked for three days to get here, carrying her daughter the whole way, after she heard that health care was available and being offered at no charge,” says Charles. “It turned out the little girl had tetanus. She was in very serious condition when they arrived, but is doing much better now. The mother tells me all she can do is smile.”
The IRC also hopes to revive the clinic in Ouandago so that people in that volatile area will not have to travel so far on the dangerous roads for medical assistance. Thousands of displaced people who are hiding out in the bush remain reluctant to emerge. They are afraid of running into soldiers who will accuse them of sheltering rebels in the villages.
In the meantime, Charles is working with local authorities and village leaders to enlist a cadre of community health workers. These individuals will be tasked with sharing health and hygiene information with displaced villagers and referring people who need urgent medical care to the IRC.