Insecurity has forced Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to stop its activity almost entirely in the city of Batangafo, in northern Central African Republic (CAR). Around 40 MSF workers had to be evacuated because of the growing tension in the town, which has resulted in violent incidents and threats against MSF staff.
MSF calls on the parties to the conflict to respect CAR’s structures and health teams, whose sole purpose is to respond to the medical and humanitarian needs of the population they serve. "We hope that people understand it takes tranquility and a physical space to work,” said MSF head of mission Javier Eguren. “And, most importantly, we need to respect the physical and psychological integrity of our patients and employees.”
"For the last month, the team has been working with many difficulties due to the lack of respect for the hospital facilities and threats to our staff," said the MSF medical advisor Cecilia Greco.
Escalating tension has caused thousands of people to seek shelter in the hospital compound. A shootout between armed militants and African peacekeeping forces (MISCA) left several injured on Sunday, August 31. MSF teams treated two people with gunshot wounds.
"Even more displaced have come after Sunday; nearly 3,000 people are inside the hospital," said Greco. She also claimed that "certain elements tried to seize Muslim patients and team members."
The temporary suspension of MSF activities in the Batangafo hospital affects hundreds of people attended daily in the outpatient area, as well as one hundred patients admitted to the center, some of whom will be taken to the town of Kabo, about 50 miles away. Meanwhile, the medical staff of the Central African Ministry of Health and a few MSF staff members are in charge of emergency services, maternity, and the treatment of TB and HIV patients. Severe cases or those requiring surgery will be referred to Kabo. The MSF-supported health posts on the outskirts of Batangafo are continuing their normal activity.
Tension has been rising in the town after intense clashes between armed militias and French peacekeeping forces in early August, and the situation has deteriorated even further since then. MSF staff members have been threatened and the MSF staff house was recently raided for the second time in recent weeks. This climate has forced MSF to withdraw the bulk of its Batangafo team.
MSF has worked in the Central African Republic since 1997, and currently has more than 300 international and more than 2,000 Central African workers in the country. Since December 2013, MSF has doubled its level of medical care in response to the crisis, with the number of projects increasing from 10 to 21, and has also carried out six interventions for Central African refugees in neighboring Chad, Cameroon, and Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Batangafo, MSF manages the general hospital (165 beds) and supports five health centers located on the outskirts of the town. In July, nearly 7,000 consultations were conducted, 3,000 of them for children under five years of age.