May 11, 2016
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is providing lifesaving medical assistance to approximately 4,000 refugees who fled violence in South Sudan beginning in December 2015 and are now living in deplorable conditions in Bambouti, a village of 1,000 inhabitants in southeastern Central African Republic (CAR). The South Sudanese refugees have been completely cut off from any assistance for several months, and have not had access to health care or clean water. Most of them live in tiny makeshift dwellings built from palm leaves that don’t offer any protection from the elements.
Refugees report that they fled from their villages in South Sudan after being harassed by armed men. Many lost track of relatives as they left. Atenina Koubaka, 38, ran away from Source Youbu, South Sudan, in November 2015 and finally arrived in Bambouti with her three children and her husband after traveling for months. "Our main problems here are lack of food, water, and medicines—that is at least until MSF arrived here," she says. "We will not leave until the conflict stops."
Increasing Immunization and Fighting Epidemics
In a five-day intervention at the end of April, MSF’s emergency team carried out preventative activities to increase the immunization of children and pregnant women against epidemic diseases. In all, 449 children between six weeks and five years of age received pneumococcal and pentavalent vaccinations, a combination of five vaccines in one.
A further 589 children between six months and ten years old were vaccinated against measles, and pregnant women received tetanus vaccinations. The intervention targeted both South Sudanese refugees and the Central African population in Bambouti, which has been without access to health care for several years.
Bringing humanitarian assistance to Bambouti, which is located in a remote, inaccessible part of CAR, is extremely difficult. Several armed groups operate in the area and the security situation is unpredictable. "The logistical challenges for our emergency team have been enormous," says Maria Simon, MSF general coordinator in CAR. "With help from the local population we managed to rehabilitate the local landing strip, which had not been operational for several years, to make sure our team and medical supplies arrive safely."
Preparing for Malaria
Since March, MSF has supported the re-opening of the local health center through the donation of medicines and the training of local health workers. More than half of the consultations at the center are related to malaria. "We are expecting to see an increase in malaria cases as the rainy season starts soon, and the refugees don’t have proper shelter and mosquito nets," says MSF emergency coordinator Juan Rodilla. Many patients also suffer from respiratory infections and diarrhea.
MSF health care workers remain on the ground to prepare for the upcoming peak malaria season and will continue to monitor the situation in Bambouti. The organization has made every effort to address the extreme vulnerability of the population and urges other organizations to use all possible means to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance.
MSF has been working in CAR since 1997 and currently has more than 300 international staff and over 2,000 Central African staff in the country. Since December 2013, MSF has doubled its level of medical care in response to the ongoing crisis in CAR, with the number of projects increasing from 10 to 21. MSF also carried out six interventions for Central African refugees in neighboring Chad, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.