Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the poorest nations on earth. The UN’s Human Development Index ranks CAR amongst the ten least developed countries in the world, with levels of health, education and income far lower than even its neighbours in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a country beset by internal armed conflict, plagued by the threat of the infamous Lords Resistance Army and overshadowed by crises in neighbouring countries, such as Darfur in Sudan. Despite the massive ongoing humanitarian needs of Central African Republic, it remains largely unreported in Britain and Europe, a neglected crisis in a far-away place.
International Medical Corps is committed to supporting the world’s most vulnerable communities, wherever they are, which is why we are working in the north eastern region of CAR in some of the most inaccessible and insecure locations. In April 2011 more than 5,000 people were displaced from their homes in Mele and Sikikede towns in the north of CAR due to an escalation of conflict between armed rebel groups. These families were forced to leave their homes with very few belongings, and sought refuge in the neighbouring towns of Ndiffa and Tiringoulou, putting pressure on the already overstretched health centres at a time when access to essential health and nutrition services was vital.
Thanks to the generous support of ECHO and the Common Humanitarian Fund, International Medical Corps launched an emergency response to provide basic health and nutrition services to both internally displaced people, as well as the host population in Ndiffa and Tiringoulou. Furthermore International Medical Corps has begun providing support to Sikikede, an area where no humanitarian assistance had been possible since August 2010 due the precarious security situation.
It is impossible to understate the complexities of delivering essential health care to these communities. Accessing these remote field locations is challenging as travel by road is often not possible due to the risk of ambush and flooding during the rainy season. The limitations on transportation mean delivering equipment and supplies to Tiringoulou and neighbouring towns requires meticulous planning. Blistering heat makes storing vaccines a real challenge and a functioning fridge is needed every mile of the way.
Despite the difficulties that International Medical Corps faces in delivering assistance to remote communities in CAR, we remain committed to fulfilling our mission, to train local people and rehabilitate health systems so our help will one day no longer be needed. As a result of our vaccination campaigns 2,433 children were vaccinated against measles and 4,008 against Yellow Fever in the past 12 months.
During a recent visit to Tiringoulou by Catherine Ainsworth our Programmes Administration Assistant, a team of birth attendants described how training provided by International Medical Corps has allowed them to develop their skills and therefore improve the treatment they can give to pregnant women and those giving birth.
Catherine recalls, “The visit to Tiringoulou was all too brief but the memory of the community commitment lasts. As I left the maternity unit one of the birth attendants stopped us and said ‘Thank you for your help, we thought we would be forgotten’.
As a result of International Medical Corps’ training and support in this region of CAR, more than 230 women have given birth with the supervision of a trained birth attendant, since August 2011. Our efforts are succeeding in bringing down the high rates of maternal mortality and giving babies a safer, healthier start in life.
Just 22 hours after the devastating 7.0-earthquake hit in January 2010, International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Team was on the ground in Haiti providing medical care to survivors. Our doctors and nurses were able to mobilise on an unparalleled scale to provide 24-hour emergency care to the acutely injured at the Hôpital de l’Université d’État d’Haiti (HUEH), a 700-bed hospital in Port-au-Prince. HUEH was badly damaged in the earthquake and many local health care professionals were missing. We were able to save thousands of lives through emergency and trauma care in the critical days following the earthquake.
At the height of emergency operations at the hospital, International Medical Corps treated approximately 1,000 patients per day. Our early entry also gave us the foundation to rapidly expand our operations to 15 mobile clinics throughout Haiti to provide critical services. Through the hospital and mobile and fixed clinics, International Medical Corps teams provided more than 110,000 patient consultations during the first year following the emergency.
When reports of acute diarrhoea emerged from the north of Haiti in October 2010, International Medical Corps doctors and nurses immediately deployed to the region providing emergency relief for the growing cholera crisis. Our network of rapidly constructed cholera treatment centres, supported by 820 community health volunteers to educate communities on how to prevent and identify cholera, meant that more than 30,000 cholera patients received life-saving treatment within the first year following the outbreak.
International Medical Corps was among the first organisations to enter Libya once the conflict began in February 2011, providing emergency medical care to casualties from the fighting and support to hospitals with medical staff and supplies. Among the first challenges our Emergency Response Teams encountered was a chronic shortage of nurses, as thousands of foreign nurses had fled the country. In partnership with the Jordan Health Aid Society, International Medical Corps immediately deployed volunteer nurses to health centres across eastern Libya moving them to towns and cities throughout the country as access permitted. Volunteer nurses trained the local counterparts while working alongside them.
At the country’s borders and within Libya, we supplied those displaced by the fighting with essential relief items, including blankets, bottled water and food. Recognising the danger posed by communicable diseases, our sanitation and hygiene specialists constructed latrines and washing stations in transit camps along the Tunisia borders.
As the fighting went on International Medical Corps worked as close to the front line as possible, providing emergency treatment to those injured in the conflict, and medicines and supplies to besieged towns and cities. In Misurata, inaccessible by road, we evacuated nearly 500 injured civilians by boat. International Medical Corps’ mobile field hospitals treated the wounded from battles in Tripoli, the Western Mountains, Bani Walid, Sabha, Jufrah and Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte.
International Medical Corps mobilized an emergency response in Mali in January 2013 after rebel armed forces from the north began moving south, triggering French military intervention. In Timbuktu, which had spent months under the control of armed Islamist rebel our team were amongst the first international organisations to arrive and found pillaged clinics, missing medical personnel and damaged health infrastructure.
We immediately began supporting eight strategically targeted health clinics in remote areas around Timbuktu, where the Malian Ministry of Health has been unable to maintain adequate services to local communities. By providing medicines, training staff and recruiting qualified doctors and nurses, we can ensure local people will now have access to basic primary and secondary health care for the first time in months
True to our mission to build self reliance, International Medical Corps is also already training community health workers to go out to local markets and spread essential hygiene, reproductive health and nutrition messages. We are also working to rehabilitate clinics damaged during the conflict, by building or repairing latrines, water systems, solar panel systems and other infrastructure repairs, enabling health workers to have stable and well-equipped facilities to help the people of Mali.
Basanti, a young mother of two in Nepal, returned home from fetching water for her family to find her 8-month old son Bishal had fallen into the open cooking fire. Basanti was in shock, but she wrapped her baby in blankets and ran for help. No one in their village or at the local health post knew what to do so she had to travel more than six hours by bus to seek emergency care at the closest hospital. The district hospital could only stabilize Bishal and wasn’t able to treat his wounds properly. As a result, his little fingers contracted into a fist as the burned skin contracted and “healed” over the coming year, making it impossible for him to use his hand. His cheek, lips and eyelid also contracted and tightened, threatening his vision.
After selling part of their farm to pay for transportation to Kathmandu, Basanti sought further treatment for her baby. However, two hospitals in the nation’s capital could not help either. Adding to Basanti’s struggles, her husband abandoned the family, leaving her alone to care for Bishal and his four-year-old sister.
Thankfully, Basanti heard about the surgical care available through ReSurge International, our trusted partner with a 43-year history of serving burn victims. Dr. Rai, ReSurge’s Outreach Director in Nepal, and his team restored Bishal’s eyelid and his hand will soon be surgically repaired as well.
Even though it took more than a year for him to get appropriate treatment, Bishal is one of the lucky ones. Thousands of children never get the care they need to live a normal life after a disabling burn.