Central African Republic: deserted villages, bush deaths
As I look around the empty health post it dawns on me just how much work is to be done here. Its four rooms are completely empty apart from a single broken maternity bed and a dented chamber pot. There are no medicines left, no equipment, not even a mattress.
I’m told everything of value was stolen in the aftermath of the coup; that this area is practically lawless and that armed gangs now rule with impunity, threating those who have already lost almost everything with further violence to extort ‘tax’.
No wonder nearly every village we pass on our way to the local hospital is practically deserted.
Talking to the few who have returned to their homes, it is obvious that the fear is still palpable. They tell me that most people are still in hiding, living in the bush without access to basic services and healthcare.
It has been 4 months since the violence erupted and for many, food reserves are said to have all but disappeared.
Looking around, the needs are obvious. Children with distended abdomens – a tell-tale sign of acute malnutrition – are an all too common sight here.
I hear stories of pregnant women so afraid to come back to their villages that they give birth in the bush in the most primitive of conditions, leading to miscarriages and maternal deaths.
One of the village chiefs explains that in the bush, people are dying of minor illnesses for want of treatment and that in less than a month 3 children under the age of 5 in this largely abandoned village have died.
Malaria and dysentery are the suspected culprits.
Paying the highest price
Time and time again in this job, I see that when disaster strikes it is always the most vulnerable who pay the highest price. Here it is no different as women and children go hungry or succumb to completely treatable illnesses.
It is in response to this crisis that Save the Children have set-up a new country programme in the Central African Republic to try to help those most in need.
We are already on the ground and are starting to distribute much-needed drugs and equipment to this health post – and the other 8 that are located on this stretch of road. We will replace looted and destroyed equipment and train both existing Ministry of Health staff and Community Health Workers to ensure that those in need of essential health care receive it.
For sure there is much to be done in the CAR, but little by little we know we can make sure that no child here is born to die.