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Dangerous Rise in Severe Malnutrition Cases Cripples Central African Republic

Political and economic insecurity has caused a dramatic spike in rates of severe malnutrition.
A child in the General Hospital of Bangui. Credit: S. Dock
A child in the General Hospital of Bangui. Credit: S. Dock
The number of children suffering from the most severe form of malnutrition in Bangui, Central African Republic has increased dramatically due to political insecurity and economic troubles in the nation. Action Against Hunger experts warn that the number of people suffering from severe acute malnutrition may spike further as we enter the lean season, which will last until late summer.
 
As we ushered in 2014, our teams in the Central African Republic admitted triple the number of malnourished children into treatment as they have during the same time period in previous years. Between January and February, we admitted over 2,200 kids. During the same period last year, these programs treated about 350 children. While our increased coverage throughout the region accounts for some of the change, the numbers are certainly a sign of a serious trouble for the most vulnerable communities and families in the area. 
 
Compounding the trouble is the fact that health centers in Bangui have been forced to close due to security concerns. If the situation were to improve, many of them could re-open and families would have easier access to treatment. The 10 operational health centers that we support in the area have become overwhelmed, as they’ve admitted those who were being treated by the now-closed centers.
 
The Pediatric Complex of Bangui, one of the centers we support, usually receives the most severe cases of malnutrition, those that require hospitalization. 
 

"The Pediatric Complex usually has 56 beds available for malnourished children. In February, 256 children had to be admitted to the nutrition unit. Additional teams were hired, and we’ve added three large tents to cope with the influx. We'll probably have to build a fourth. Everyone is overwhelmed there and the hospital has reached the limits of its capabilities," explains Nicolas Fuchs, our Country Director in Central African Republic.

 
In addition to supporting health facilities, we have mobile teams roaming the area, working to identify and support malnourished children. Information uncovered from these screenings is worrisome; more than 7% of the children screened in February are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. It’s considered an emergency when that rate is 2% or higher. 
 
"We’re seeing, more and more, people from the distant outskirts of Bangui coming into town for treatment. In the rural areas, there are many families who live in the bush in unsanitary conditions. They’re extremely difficult to reach, so we’re worried that malnutrition rates are even higher than our screenings tell us. We’re very concerned about the situation throughout the province," adds Nicolas.
 
Our teams also suspect that there are adults in the region suffering from severe acute malnutrition, particularly in landlocked sites. Although adult cases are extremely rare, they’re a strong indicator of the seriousness of the situation.
 
The crisis in the Central African Republic is creating major problems for communities, families, and children. Nicolas tells us, "The humanitarian catastrophe is huge and getting worse. The international humanitarian community must strengthen our financial efforts in order to cope." 
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About Dominique Hernandez

Dominique manages Action Against Hunger's online community and social fundraising efforts. Find Dominique on Google+.

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