MSF withdraws medical staff following horrific incident; thousands now lack access to health care.
Amsterdam/Bangui, July 12, 2017—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has withdrawn its staff and suspended its medical activities in Zemio, Central African Republic (CAR), after a baby was shot and killed Tuesday in a hospital where it was working.
Approximately 7,000 internally displaced people had sought refuge over the past two weeks at the hospital, following an escalation in fighting in the south-eastern region of CAR. On Tuesday, July 11, two armed men arrived at the hospital and threatened a family there. One of the family members had been treated at the hospital two weeks ago, but had been unable to leave the premises due to ongoing violence. As the woman, who was holding her baby, and two of her family members attempted to seek cover, the armed men shot at them, striking the child in the head and killing her instantly. An MSF staff member witnessed the entire incident.
The incident is a horrific example of the lack of safe space and brutality against civilians in the escalating conflict in CAR. MSF has run an HIV/AIDS treatment program in Zemio since 2010. The suspension of MSF’s activities leaves thousands of people without access to healthcare in the region.
“We are shocked and saddened by the killing of a young child in the hospital,” said Mia Hejdenberg, MSF's head of mission in CAR. “Our condolences go to the family of the child. Our thoughts are with them, and all those who witnessed her brutal death. This child was shot in her mother’s arms, and in a medical facility: the two places where a child should be safest. Now her family is in mourning for the future she will never have.”
More than 20,000 people have been displaced in Zemio, with many wounded and unable to reach medical care following recent clashes.
“The callousness of this attack highlights both the indiscriminate nature and disturbing escalation of violence against civilians in CAR,” said Hejdenberg. “It demonstrates a complete lack of respect by armed groups in the area for medical care, and for civilians, and it signals the diminishing space for aid organizations in CAR, as the security situation deteriorates.”
MSF manages 12 projects in CAR and has worked in Zemio since 2010, currently running an HIV/AIDS community-based care project. MSF’s HIV/AIDS project is the only one of its kind in the whole south-eastern region of CAR and provides free treatment to more than 1,600 patients who come to Zemio from as far away as 155 miles to seek treatment.