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February 19, 2014

Doctors Without Borders Seeks Help Treating CAR Wounded

by Nick Long

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders is appealing for help in treating the thousands of people wounded and injured in the violence currently gripping the Central African Republic (CAR).  The charity, known by its French acronym MSF, said there are not enough health care workers on the ground to deal with the overwhelming number of patients.
 
The casualty ward at the main hospital in Bouar has probably never seen such an influx of injured patients as in the past few weeks.  Currently there are about 60.  Many of them are lying on the floor.  Many are children.

Until a team from MSF got here, earlier this month, the hospital had only one qualified nurse and two doctors and only one of these doctors, Wilfrid Komoyo, seems to be treating patients.

Abdou, a two-year-old boy with a bandage around his head, is recovering from his injuries.

Komoyo said Abdou was injured when a truck that he and about 40 other people were traveling in went off the road.  He said some of the passengers were also hit by bullets.

Another medical worker told VOA the truck was carrying Muslims who were trying to get out of the country.  He said the accident happened after the truck had come under fire from the anti-balaka militia.  Five people were killed and dozens injured.

Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled the CAR in the past three months as sectarian violence has escalated.

Last month a grenade was thrown at another truck near Bouar, and more than 20 people, nearly all Muslims, died.

On Sunday, the anti-balaka attacked a convoy of 89 vehicles evacuating Muslims from the west of the country, and 12 civilians were wounded, although African Union troops protecting the convoy managed to beat off the attackers.

Non-Muslims are also being brought to the casualty ward at Bouar’s main hospital.  One of them, who has bullet wounds, identified his attacker to VOA.

He said a soldier stole his father’s motorbike, and he went to recover it and the soldier shot at him.

Many soldiers of the Central African armed forces have been fighting alongside the anti-balaka.

Three doctors from MSF are now working with Dr. Komoyo. They have taken charge of treating all the wounded and injured at the hospital.

MSF said that since December 5 it has treated 3,600 people in the CAR for bullet, machete, grenade and knife wounds and other injuries. The charity currently has 240 of its own international staff working in CAR and 2,000 local assistants.

The head of MSF’s mission in the CAR is Marie-Elizabeth Ingres. She said there are people in need throughout the country, there is major violence, there are many wounded to treat and MSF finds itself almost alone, and overwhelmed by this very serious situation.
 
Ingres added that MSF is appealing to the other aid agencies to help out.  MSF can react to emergencies, she said, but it cannot be everywhere, in every health center, to provide the medium- and long-term support that the CAR health system needs.  

Dr. Komoyo told VOA that the World Health Organization (WHO) is paying salaries for some of the staff at the hospital while MSF is paying the other staff, and both UNICEF and the charity Save the Children are providing some free medicines.

But MSF seems to be the only international organization that has people on the ground in Bouar actually providing treatment and monitoring health care delivery.

One aid worker told VOA that since the MSF team arrived at the Bouar hospital its workers have frequently had to remind local staff not to charge patients for treatments and medicines that are supposed to be free.