In a climate of fear, violence and uncertainty, healthcare workers have found themselves on the frontline once more in the Central African Republic (CAR).
The latest bout of violence erupted on December 5th in Bangui, and to a lesser degree in Bossangoa and Bozoum, deepening the humanitarian plight of the people of CAR. Communities that already had very little, following years of unrest and food insecurity, are now living in ever greater fear. The impact of violence in the capital has furthermore been worsened by the closure of most hospitals and clinics in Bangui due to rampant insecurity. If doctors and nurses are unable to get to work, the sick are left to fend for themselves, just at the time when they are in greatest need of health and protection.
In the past ten days thousands of people in the capital city Bangui have been forced to take refuge in public places, churches and mosques. From these refuges the Central African Red Cross together with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has taken 12 pregnant women and 78 injured people to Bangui’s community hospital for treatment. It is vital that these volunteers are allowed to carry out this crucial work.
Through a news release on 11th December and in our dialogue with authorities and armed groups, the ICRC has demanded healthcare workers be allowed to treat those in need. The ICRC has 40 expatriate and 200 local staff in CAR, it insists that civilians be spared and humanitarian staff be given the support and access they need to provide lifesaving help.
The needs are enormous and relief provided by the ICRC and other organisations struggles to keep pace with the scale of suffering. Since 7th December, the ICRC has provided maize, beans, cooking oil, salt, rice and kitchen utensils for 36,000 displaced people in Bangui. It has installed tap stands to distribute water and built latrines at two major displacement sites in the capital. Teams on the ground have also delivered food to detainees and guards in a prison in the capital and provided critical support to the Central African Red Cross to bury the bodies of over 260 victims of fighting from all sides. Restoring contact between family members who have been separated as a result of the conflict has also been a priority.
To try to cope with the scale of the needs in this country the ICRC is increasing its budget by 65% for 2014, focusing in particular on health services. Regardless of the resources committed however, this latest violence has shown that the crucial factor in providing effective support to the most vulnerable is access to the worst affected and protection for healthcare workers and facilities. In places like CAR this principle is a matter of life and death.
Christian Wabnitz is Deputy Head of Operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Central and Southern Africa