Big Story 10

Central African Republic health plan threatened by violence: WHO

YAOUNDE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As displaced people return to their homes in the capital of war-torn Central African Republic, they will need medical services but renewed violence threatens an already wounded healthcare system, the World Health Organization’s Africa director said.

Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti visited Bangui this week for the launch of the country’s latest health development plan, as renewed fighting swept the country.

“I think it’s fair to say that the security situation is extremely worrying as far as delivery of health services is concerned,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview from the capital Bangui at the end of her visit.

After more than four years of violence that have caused “extensive degradation” of health services, Central African Republic’s new national plan aims to re-establish public health systems and infrastructure, the WHO said in a statement.

The plan also seeks to bolster the fight against HIV/AIDS, which affects almost one in 20 people in the country, and improve treatment of epidemics such as cholera, measles and meningitis.

Clashes between rival armed factions are cutting off humanitarian access to civilians most in need of help, while emboldened fighters are infiltrating camps for the displaced, aid agencies said on Thursday, despite militias signing a peace deal this week aimed at ending years of bloodshed. [nL8N1JJ4ET]

Moeti’s visit was limited to Bangui, one of the few parts of the country where the government still retains control.

There, tens of thousands of displaced people have been returning to their neighborhoods in recent months, after years sheltering in the city’s mosques, churches, the airport and other makeshift camps.

“When people are in these camps, the humanitarian organizations have (health and other) services provided, but when they go back home, I think the services are more precarious,” Moeti said.

“This underlines the importance of this re-establishment plan and having it supported, so that these services are provided where people would normally be living.”

Thousands have died in a conflict that broke out after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.

Across the country of 5 million access to quality basic health services remains inadequate.

Moeti also launched a program to reduce maternal and infant mortality by training and hiring more health workers, nurses, doctors, gynecologists and obstetricians.

Central African Republic is one of the deadliest countries in the world for mothers, with 882 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, the WHO said.