IRC Extends Vital Health Care to the Neediest in Central African Republic
Firmin Balezou, a former resident, tells International Rescue Committee aid workers that all 277 villagers fled into the bush in November after learning that soldiers were planning to oust rebels believed to have infiltrated Ngumuru. Since then, they have been living in their cassava and maize fields without toilets or mosquito nets. They drink and cook with water collected from the same source they use to bathe, wash clothes and graze animals. The health post nearby was shut down after being raided in October, as were all health services in Ouandago, the nearest town.
Helpless to stop the ravages of disease, families watched one child after another die in rapid succession. All 17 were under three years old.
No Money, No Care
About 30 kilometers away, Kaga Bandoro Hospital is virtually empty, even though it is one of the few functioning health facilities in a region where people suffer high rates of malnutrition, respiratory infections, diarrhea and malaria. The hospital averages a meager six patients a day—from a surrounding population of 127,000—largely due to the cost of treatment. Those few who can afford care and medication must supply their own mattresses, linens and food as well.
Meanwhile, the impoverished population of Kaga Bandoro increases daily. According to Madame Fabella, district mayor, more than 1,000 families, about 8,000 people, have fled to the area to escape the fighting between army troops and local insurgents. “The displaced people have settled in very poor neighborhoods,” she says. “The conditions are deplorable and disease is spreading fast because of congestion.”
Nearly 300 uprooted people recently moved into squalid houses once owned by a Protestant mission in Kaga Bandoro, a safer alternative than the bush. But they have no access to their farms and they can’t afford to buy food or water in town. Although many suffer from curable illnesses, hospital fees are prohibitive.
The IRC Intercedes
In front of one dingy house at the old mission, Marie Inzara lays listlessly on a straw mat under a shade tree. Two toddlers try unsuccessfully to win her attention, but she can barely open her eyes. IRC health coordinator Charles Muganda learns from her husband, Filbert, that Marie has been in pain and discomfort for days. Filbert gives her tea made from nguengue root, a local cure-all, but it isn't helping. Charles immediately takes the couple to the hospital, where Marie is diagnosed with dysentery and treated. The IRC pays the bill.
Charles and his team are launching a program that will upgrade services, equipment and the water system at Kaga Bandoro Hospital and underwrite medical costs so that treatment is available free to all in need. Plans are also in the works to revive the clinic in Ouandago, nearly 50 kilometers away, for displaced and other vulnerable people unable to access the hospital. Partner organizations providing medical help for villagers between the two towns will refer and transport patients to the IRC-supported facilities.
The IRC continues to work with displaced populations to recruit, train and equip community health workers to provide hygiene information to families and help the IRC locate people in need of medical care.
“The people of this region are struggling to survive and many are dying from preventable and treatable diseases,” says Charles. “We’re going to do our best to prevent that from happening in the future.”