Aid Groups Warn of "Catastrophic" Health Crisis in CAR

03/08/2014
Map of Central African Republic

With clashes still continuing in the Central African Republic, aid groups say the health and humanitarian situation looks set to deteriorate even further. Andrew Green reports.

There is no guarantee of safety for many thousands of people living in the Central African Republic (CAR), let alone access to health care or other basic services. Months of ongoing clashes between rival militias have left at least 2000 people dead and forced 700 000 others to flee their homes for safety.

Aid groups are warning that without greater efforts to bring the fighting under control and scale up the humanitarian response, an already-abysmal situation will deteriorate even further. And already the UN estimates more than half the population of 4•6 million people are in need of assistance.

The crisis started in December, 2012, when a coalition of mainly Muslim rebels, calling themselves Seleka—or “alliance” in the local language—advanced on the capital, Bangui. They took control of it in March last year, amid allegations that they had targeted the country's Christians in deadly attacks.

Members of the Christian community organised their own militias, known as anti-Balaka, for reprisal attacks on the minority Muslim population. The tit-for-tat fighting has grown steadily worse since Seleka leader, Michel Djotodia, went into exile in January under pressure from the international community. Within Bangui alone, nearly 300 000 people are now sheltering at camps, too scared to venture back out into the city.

There are fears the country is permanently fracturing along religious lines. “We are caught in a sense of helplessness faced with extreme violence, treating thousands of wounded, and seeing hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes as it is their only option to avoid being slaughtered”, Joanne Liu, the international president of Médecins Sans Frontières, said in a statement.

A combination of more than 6000 African and French troops have been unable to stem the fighting, although they have provided some protection as convoys carrying thousands of Muslims have left Bangui for other countries.

The full article continues at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2814%2960431-1/fulltext on The Lancet’s website.