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Central African Republic: Civilians wounded and medical center struck during violent clashes in Bambari

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A medical center supported by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was struck by bullets and explosives amidst violent clashes in Bambari, Central African Republic, on February 15 and 16, the international medical humanitarian organization said today. MSF surgical teams treated civilians wounded during the violence, including children.

“The current humanitarian crisis in Bambari and across the country is dreadful and violence affecting civilians has to stop,” said Marcella Kraay, MSF’s deputy head of mission. “The Central African population has already suffered so much, and what we saw last week was yet another example of the toll of violence on the population, including women and children, with bullet and shrapnel wounds. Constant tensions and fighting deeply impact already vulnerable and traumatized [people] hard-hit by years of civil war, a chronic medical crisis, and extremely limited access to healthcare.”

MSF’s surgical team and Ministry of Health staff in Bambari Regional hospital treated 36 patients injured in the violence last week. The majority of the wounded arrived on February 16 after the fighting had subsided, finally allowing ambulances and patients to access the hospital. Among the injured were eight women and nine children aged between 17 months and 17 years old.

The MSF-supported Elevage Centre de Santé in Bambari was severely damaged by the fighting. An explosion and bullets damaged the MSF medical tent, including the patient consultation rooms. Bullet casings littered the floor throughout the medical compound. MSF was told that as the fighting came closer to the clinic, the medical team had to flee. The Ministry of Health facility usually provides primary health care to a community of approximately 1,000 people.

A medical center is a neutral space protected under International Humanitarian Law and must never be targeted or used for fighting or any military purposes, MSF said. “We are calling on all parties to the conflict to respect medical facilities, ambulances, medical staff, as well as patients and their caretakers at all times,” said Kraay. “Unhindered and sustained access to the civilian population affected by the violence must be ensured in order to allow the delivery of much-needed medical care.”

Over the past two months, fighting has erupted between a coalition of non-state armed groups and government forces supported by international military allies, plunging the country into a new cycle of violence. Since mid-December, Bambari, in the Ouaka prefecture, has been the epicenter of fighting, and MSF has treated 111 war-wounded patients.

The impact of the fighting on the Elevage Centre de Santé further compounds people’s suffering as access to health care will be limited until the damage has been repaired and medical activities can resume again.

People in Central African Republic already have very limited access to essential medical services due to growing violence and insecurity. Over 200,000 people have already been displaced either inside or outside of the country and live in very precarious conditions. This latest incident only further reduces people’s access to care.

MSF is working to ensure continuity of care in all its projects and has increased its surgical capacity to respond to the influx of casualties. MSF is also providing assistance to displaced people in the areas where it works. MSF teams are ready to support the Ministry of Health in coping with a potential surge in the number of war-wounded people and to assist displaced people across the country.

MSF has worked in the Central African Republic since 1997. Independent of any political or military parties, MSF manages 13 projects in seven of the country’s 16 prefectures. MSF teams provide care to all those in need during conflicts, mass displacements, or epidemics, regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation.

Since the electoral crisis began in mid-December, MSF has treated over 300 war-wounded patients across the country and intervened in conflict-affected areas outside its regular projects, including Bouar, Grimari, Bossembele, Mbaiki, Boali, Damara, Dékoa, Liton, and Ippy.