Nutrition Emergency in Central African Republic

MSF Assessments Reveal Severe Malnutrition Rates Exceeding Emergency Threshold in Southwestern CAR; Over 1,000 Children at Risk From Malnutrition and Other Severe Medical Complications

Barcelona/Paris/New York, September 22, 2009The southwestern area of Central African Republic (CAR) is facing a severe nutritional emergency, with more than 1,000 children at grave risk, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today. 

After being alerted by local authorities, MSF medical teams have opened four feeding centers in the past month in Carnot, Boda, Nola, and Gamboula. MSF has also implemented a number of outpatient treatment programs. Initial assessments in some areas have revealed severe malnutrition rates over the emergency threshold of two percent. In barely six weeks, more than 1,300 children, mostly suffering from severe malnutrition, have been admitted to MSF treatment programs.

A large number of patients who suffered from malnutrition also suffered from medical complications and required admission to hospital. “In Boda and Nola, for instance, it is difficult to find patients only suffering from malnutrition, as many of them arrive here suffering from other diseases and their condition is very severe,” said Clara Delacre, MSF coordinator in Nola. “There are many cases of malaria, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, or AIDS, which further complicates children’s already delicate condition.”

The economic crisis that has unfolded in the area’s mining industry was the final straw for an already highly vulnerable population. Yet it is only one of the many causes of this nutrition emergency.

“Several elements can explain this situation, one of them is the crisis affecting the gold and diamond sector, the main means of sustenance for most of the people in the area,” said Delacre.

The crisis has left many men working in the mines unemployed and without income. In addition, many of the diamond and gold buying-and-selling businesses have been forced to close down over the past few months. The economic crisis, however, is only one more factor compounding the chronic difficulties in the region.  A very poor cassava-based diet, lack of access to healthcare for most of the population, and the malaria-generating rainy season increases risks for the population.

Other basic foods, including meat, are hard to find. According to the area’s inhabitants, the problem started some years ago when groups of bandits began threatening cattle farmers, who fled to Cameroon. Moreover, most people cannot afford healthcare. This has been compounded by the recent loss of income in many families and the closure of many health centers.

“MSF has come here to respond to the emergency, treating the most severe cases,” said Delacre. “Yet there are background problems requiring a broader response.”

MSF has been working in CAR since 1997. Currently, the organization is implementing projects to provide care to people affected by violence in north-eastern areas of the country, in Kabo, Batangafo, Boguila, Markounda, Maïtikoulou, Paoua and Bocaranga.