DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Four patients have died and thousands are stranded without healthcare in an embattled Central African Republic town, after an attack forced the last charity working there to pull out.
The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has evacuated its staff and suspended its programs after its base in Bangassou was violently robbed on Monday night, it said.
“This was a really tough decision for us, but we cannot put the lives of our staff on the line,” MSF’s head of mission Frederic Lai Manantsoa told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Leaving the population utterly abandoned is a painful admission.”
The southeastern diamond-mining town, which borders the Democratic Republic of Congo, has witnessed some of the deadliest clashes this year between rival militias, as violence has escalated throughout the country.
Thousands have died and a fifth of Central Africans have fled a conflict that broke out after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian militias.
Half a million people in the region depended on MSF for health services and more than 50 urgently needed surgery or were in intensive care when doctors and nurses left them in the hospital, MSF said. Four patients have already died, it said.
Manantsoa said the evacuated staff are in the capital Bangui and he does not know when they will return to Bangassou.
MSF was the last aid organization working in Bangassou as violence has pushed others out in recent months, said Joseph Inganji, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Central African Republic.
The U.N. approved the deployment of an extra 900 peacekeepers to protect civilians in Central African Republic last week, and has warned that ethnic fighting could descend again into a much larger conflict.
The area is controlled by armed groups fighting over land and resources who frequently target civilians, it says.
People rely on aid organizations for everything from clean water to delivering babies, OCHA’s Inganji said.
“This is going to have a very serious impact,” he said via phone from Bangui.
“Who will provide health and sanitation to these people?”
Reporting by Nellie Peyton. Editing by Katy Migiro.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.