The international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been forced to stop its activity almost entirely in the city of Batangafo, in northern Central African Republic (CAR). Around 40 workers of MSF had to be evacuated because of the growing tension in the town which has resulted in violent incidents and threats against MSF members.
Threats to 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. And most importantly, we need to respect the physical and psychological integrity of our patients and employees," said the MSF head of mission in the country, Javier Eguren.
"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 in the area, Cecilia Greco.
Escalating tension has caused thousands of people to seek shelter for weeks in the hospital compound, where it has also become habitual for hundreds of families to seek shelter overnight. A shootout took place on Sunday 31 August between armed militants and African peacekeeping forces (MISCA) and left several injured. 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."
MSF house raided
The temporary suspension of MSF activities in the Batangafo hospital affects hundreds of people attended daily in the outpatient area, as well as a hundred patients admitted to the centre, some of whom will be taken to the town of Kabo, about 50 miles away. Meanwhile, the medical staff of the Ministry of Health and a few members of MSF 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 in the outskirts of Batangafo are continuing their normal activity.
Tension has increased in the town after strong clashes between armed militias and French peacekeeping forces in early August. The situation has deteriorated: there have been threats against members of MSF and organisation’s staff house was raided for the second time in recent weeks. These facts, together with the lack of security guarantees for health workers and hospital patients, led MSF to decide 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 staff and more than 2,000 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 going from 10 to 21, and has also carried out six interventions for Central African refugees in neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Batangafo, MSF manages the general hospital (165 beds) and supports five health centres located in the outskirts of the town. In July, nearly 7,000 consultations were conducted, 3,000 of them for children under five years of age.