Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF - Medecins Sans Frontier) is calling for urgent assistance for thousands of refugees from the Central African Republic facing a catastrophic health situation in Cameroon.
MSF officials say refugees arriving in Cameroon are in a much worse state than those who fled to the country a few months ago.
Exhausted, sick and traumatized after having walked for weeks or months, fleeing violence and staving off attacks by armed gangs, MSF says six out of 10,000 children under five are dying every day, a mortality rate well above the emergency threshold.
Program Manager for Cameroon, Christine Jamet, who recently visited the region, says more than 40 percent, or nearly one child in two, is suffering from acute malnutrition.
“What is particularly striking is the fact that it touches much more children between five and 10 years," she said. "Usually, when you have a malnutrition situation, it is the children less than five that are affected. But in this situation we can see children above five, up to 10, up to 12 years old. We can see adults. We can see pregnant women, lactating women, who are malnourished, which shows that it is a general malnutrition situation.”
Jamet says MSF is focusing on treating the more than 1,000 severely malnourished and 1,500 moderately malnourished children who have been admitted to therapeutic feeding programs.
The United Nations estimates more than 85,000 people have fled the CAR into Cameroon this year, and Jamet says MSF is concentrating on providing shelter, food, water and other relief to the large numbers of refugees who have not been registered and are still waiting for emergency aid.
Jamet also said the rainy season has increased the number of malarial infections, and that a measles epidemic in CAR has left the largely under-immunized refugee community vulnerable. Despite an MSF measles vaccination campaign in eastern Cameroon, the constant influx of refugees is making it impossible to contain the outbreak.
She says the agency is also increasing its preparations to face a possible cholera outbreak.
MSF has 25 expatriate and 315 national staff working in Cameroon. The group is located at two main entry points along the border at Garoua-Boulai and Gbiti. The agency notes relief is mainly organized to help refugees who are gathered in large numbers and in camps.
It says those who are not registered or are scattered in small pockets are overlooked and do not get assistance.