The Central African Republic (CAR) faces its most serious malaria crisis in years, together with the risk of increased levels of malnutrition, following a coup in March that has plunged the country into chaos, a medical NGO said on Tuesday.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a report that the country is in the grip of a humanitarian emergency. Malnutrition and preventable diseases are rife, while cases of malaria, a leading cause of death, have reached alarming numbers.
“We are facing one of the worst years in terms of the impact of the disease,” said Ellen van der Velden, MSF’s head of mission in the country.
Instability returned to the country when Seleka, a rebel coalition, launched an offensive in December. An agreement was signed by warring parties in January, but in March Seleka seized control of Bangui, the capital, in a coup. Michel Djotodia, one of the Seleka leaders, proclaimed himself president while former Central African Republic president Francois Bozize fled the country and the armed forces and police disbanded.
During the rebel offensive, hospitals and health centers were ransacked and medical staff fled. Without doctors, medicines or medical supplies, the majority of people in the country have no access to healthcare.
UN agencies and many NGOs have withdrawn to Bangui, leaving the majority of the country without aid. According to MSF, the population — 4.4 million people spread across a country bigger than France — have effectively been abandoned just when they most need help.
MSF said that health facilities it supported treated about 74,700 patients for malaria in the first quarter of the year, a 33 percent increase over the same period last year, when 50,442 were treated for the disease. For children under five, there has been an increase of 46 percent, from 29,910 in the first quarter last year to nearly 44,500 in the same period this year.
“This data indicates the likelihood of a further increase in consultations during the peak malaria season, which begins in July, and potentially one of the most acute malaria crises in recent years,” MSF said.
The group said disruption of the health system has interrupted treatment of people with HIV. It estimates that about 11,000 HIV-positive people (73 percent of all people who are on antiretroviral treatment) have had their treatment interrupted due to drug supply problems. Routine vaccinations for diseases such as measles, meningitis and whooping cough have also been disrupted.
Instability has worsened an already precarious food security situation: a poor harvest, poor food supplies and volatile food prices. MSF sees a risk of increased levels of malnutrition.
MSF called on relief groups to maintain their commitment to the country, and allocate adequate resources to respond to the medical and humanitarian crisis in the country.