September 18, 2015

After two suspected cases of measles were reported in the camp for displaced people in Carnot, Central African Republic (CAR), Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières vaccinated 186 children between six months and fifteen years of age against the killer disease in just one day.

More than 500 displaced people are still in the enclave in Carnot, where they sought refuge in February 2014. Mostly families of Muslim shopkeepers, they have been living in deplorable conditions in the town’s Catholic church for over 18 months. The families live with their meager possessions—mats, a few bundles of clothes, and some food—in the church and outbuildings. There are over 200 children in the enclave, many of whom were born here.

MSF is assisting the Ministry of Health with its Expanded Vaccination Program in Carnot. “In overcrowded conditions like these, just one case of measles can spread like wildfire to all the children in the camp, so the health authorities and MSF prepared the vaccination campaign in under three days,” explains MSF doctor Aubin Vergnes.

Vaccination day kicks off with a public announcement delivered by the camp’s health promoter, Stanislas Tatale. Tatale has worked with MSF since the displaced people first arrived in 2014. Speaking into a microphone, he informs mothers that the vaccination campaign is about to begin. Next, MSF teams set up their equipment as the first mothers arrive with their children. Each child’s immunization record is updated, and vaccines are administered.

Among the women and children is Harouna, who came to have her three-year-old daughter Koukaya vaccinated. Cradling her other daughter, five-month-old Mariam, in her arms, she keeps a tight hold on Koukaya to make sure she doesn’t run off when she sees the needle. “It’s essential to protect our children against diseases like measles,” says Harouna. “We suffered an awful lot during the crisis but, as long as we stay in the church, we’re safe and we can get medical care.” Home to Harouna is a mat on the church floor and, on Sundays, she gathers up her belongings to make room for parishioners attending mass. When baby Mariam was about to be born, MSF referred Harouna to Carnot Hospital so that she could give birth safely.

The situation in Carnot remains tense and most of the displaced don’t dare return home. On August 29, a man who left the church to go into town was attacked by several individuals armed with machetes. MSF referred him to the hospital for treatment. He returned that evening with several stitches—and the certainty that the time to go home had not yet come. 

MSF has worked in Carnot since 2009, providing support to the hospital (pediatric, nutrition, and internal medicine departments) and two peripheral health centers. Since February 2014 MSF has also provided medical care to the displaced people who have sought refuge in the Catholic church. A live-in health worker refers serious cases to the hospital and every Thursday a mobile clinic dispenses basic medical care for the 520 people living there.

Between January and June 2015, MSF conducted more than 25,000 medical consultations and treated over 18,900 patients suffering from malaria as part of its activities in Carnot.

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