NGO seeks funds to extend medical programme

A Roman Catholic NGO in the Central African Republic (CAR) has appealed to its donors to provide aid to enable it resume an emergency medical programme that ended in December 2003 in eight provinces that were badly affected by the six-month civil war that ended in March 2003.

"The situation is not as worrying as it was in May-June [2003] but we cannot move from a war situation to normalcy without passing through a transitional period," Dr. Eder Reginamaria, the coordinator of the Association des Oeuvres Medicales des Eglises pour la Sante en Centrafrique (Assomesca), told IRIN on Thursday.

She said Assomesca needed to extend the programme for another four or six months in order to help the population recover from the consequences of the war.

The eight provinces, largely in the east of the country, were cut off from the capital, Bangui, which serves as a major centre for the supply of food, medicine and other basic requirements.

In June 2003, the Assomesca launched a €700,000 (US $889,910) programme in 71 health facilities, including 20 hospitals in the eastern provinces of Haut Mbomou, Mbomou, Basse Kotto, Haute Kotto, Ouaka, Kemo, Nana Grebizi and Ombella Mpoko. The programme was financed by the UN Children’s Fund, which donated drugs worth €200,000 ($254,000); the EC Humanitarian Office (ECHO), which contributed €240,000 ($305,000) and two Roman Catholic charities - the US-based Relief Services and French-based Secours Catholique - which jointly contributed €200,000 ($254,000).

The eight provinces, whose combined population accounts for one million of the country's 3.5 million people, did not receive drug supplies or any other commodities during the war, as they were cut off from Bangui. Rebels loyal to the present CAR leader, Francois Bozize, occupied the centre and the northwest of the country until Bozize overthrew President Ange-Felix Patasse on 15 March 2003.

"Before June 2003, almost all health centres had run out of drugs as we could not get supplies from Bangui," Benjamin Zangaberou, a medical assistant supervising two health centres in Rafai, 882 km east of Bangui, told IRIN on Thursday.

He said that the two health centres were the only ones in Rafai, which has an estimated population of 11,400.

Zangaberou was in Bangui to attend a three-day workshop for medical workers from the eight provinces. The workshop was held for them to finalise the report on their activities.

Reginamaria told IRIN that under her association's medical programme, the number of patients reporting to health facilities increased three to eight times compared with the pre-war period. She attributed this to the low cost of medical care.

In Haut Mbomou, she said, an adult paid 400 francs CFA (515 francs = $1) for consultation and treatment while a child paid 200 francs CFA. In Ouaka Province, an adult paid 1,000 francs CFA while a child paid 500 francs CFA.

Reginamaria said that infections caused by parasites were the most frequently diagnosed, followed by malaria, respiratory infection, diarrhoea, skin infections and anaemia. She said that no epidemic outbreak had been reported during the six months the medical programme was in effect.

"With the old system [that started on 1 January], prices doubled and are now out of reach for most people," Zangaberou said.

He added that the population had called for the extension of the Assomesca programme.

While health facilities in the east ran out of drugs due to isolation, those in the northwest were looted and damaged during the war.

At the same time as Assomesca, Italian charity, Cooperazione Internazionale (Coopi), with the support of ECHO and the EC Development Fund launched a six-month €1.78 million ($2.2 million) programme in the war-affected provinces of Ouham and Ouham Pende. Coopi supplied and re-equipped health facilities in the two provinces, where measles epidemic outbreaks had been reported.

The Coopi representative, Massimiliano Pedretti, told IRIN on Thursday that talks were underway with the government over the extension of a medical programme in the north that expired in December 2003.