(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Impact of war on the northwest - Continued

Health care beyond the reach of many

Due to the extreme and widespread poverty resulting from the destruction of cotton factories, people in the northwest have opted for traditional medicines when ill, given that they are cheaper and more readily available than modern medicines in hospitals and pharmacies.

Since the end of an emergency medical aid programme in December 2003, implemented by the Roman Catholic Association des Ouevres Medicales des Eglises en Centrafrique (Assomesca), drug prices have soared beyond the reach of the average citizen.

Paul Nganda, a medical assistant in Sibut Hospital, one of those previously covered by the Assomesca's programme, told IRIN on 26 February that the number of patients reporting to the hospital had decreased 50 percent since January.

He said that during Assomesca's programme, an adult paid 600 francs CFA (US $1.17) and a child 250 francs (49 US cents) for consultation, medication and hospitalisation where necessary.

"Now all depends on the type of treatment the patients needs or on the duration of his hospitalisation," Nganda said.

He added that the cost could increase from 3,000 to 5,000 francs ($5.89 to $9.83). Most patients in the hospital complained of malaria, parasites, respiratory infections and tuberculosis (TB).

A laboratory technician at Sibut Hospital, Raul Abrou, told IRIN six patients had tested positive for TB in February and that they were being treated free of charge.

Cheap and dangerous drugs

The increase of health care costs has pushed people to rely on unauthorised street-side drug sellers. These drugs, though cheaper than those sold in hospital, pose a danger to consumers.

Felicite Kodromoundjou, a mother of five selling cassava in Sibut market, said she could not afford modern medicines and her children's schooling from the 300 to 600 francs CFA that she earned from daily sales.

Gona said in order to seek medication at the Patcho health centre, 50 metres from his house, he had to sell a basket of cassava or maize.

"If nobody buys it, as it is usually the case, then I take the traditional medicine made out of a mixture of roots and leaves," he said.

Moreover, several villagers have returned home with tropical ulcers after spending months hidden in the forests. The disease starts with bacteria and then other parasites entering the body, causing a painful and itchy pimple on the skin that, once scratched, erupts to expose a grotesque sore.

"If not treated on time, it provokes gangrene and necessitates amputation," Dr. Joseph Foumbi, a UNICEF representative, told IRIN on 27 February.

He added that malnutrition offered a fertile breeding ground for the disease.

[Central African Republic (CAR)] Young man with ulcer in Ouandago health centre. There is an insufficient drug supply to treat the disease. February 2004.

IRIN
[Central African Republic (CAR)] Young man with ulcer in Ouandago health centre. There is an insufficient drug supply to treat the disease. February 2004.
http://www.irinnews.org
Monday, March 1, 2004
[Central African Republic (CAR)] Young man with ulcer in Ouandago health centre. There is an insufficient drug supply to treat the disease. February 2004.
A man with tropical ulcer

In Nana Outa village, 480 km northeast of Bangui in Nana Grebizi Province, the disease appeared in early January and affected mostly children. One parent told IRIN that 42 of 269 children in the village's primary school had been sent home for treatment and to avoid risks of contaminating others.

"The only treatment we offer is to wash the wound with eau d'Aquin [a disinfectant]," Clement Kakodamba, a nurse running the village's health centre, told IRIN.

Serious cases are referred to the larger health centre at Ouandago village, 12 km to the north. The only medical assistant at the Ouandago health centre, Desire Badapou, said he received an average of 10 to 12 patients daily with the ulcer but was able to heal them with a combination of antibiotics. However, he said, his drug stock was almost depleted while the number of patients continued to increase.

Schools lack stationery

On the education front, school activities in the northwest resumed in June 2003, three months after the end of the rebellion. The school year 2003-2004 began in December 2003 with children and teachers starting classes without notebooks and pens.

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Many schools in Africa are still battling to provide educational tools
IRIN
[Central African Republic (CAR)] Patcho primary school, where children and teachers have no stationery. Bangui - February 2004.
http://www.irinnews.org
Monday, March 1, 2004
Need to focus on secondary education
[Central African Republic (CAR)] Patcho primary school, where children and teachers have no stationery. Bangui - February 2004.
Patcho Primary School, where students and teachers have no stationary

One of the two teachers at Patcho Primary School, Appolinaire Assana, said that UNICEF had donated three notebooks and a pen to each of the 302 pupils in October 2003 but that the school had since run out of stationery.

The school was among those that had been receiving food from the WFP since December 2003, under the agency's school feeding programme in four war-affected provinces. This, Assana said, had encouraged children to attend class and prompted those still in hiding to come home.

Insecurity persists

However, despite the gains in education and agriculture, insecurity has persisted in the country. The phenomenon of armed highwaymen roaming the country on horseback has existed since the early 1980s but has intensified more recently with modern arms and more ammunition in circulation due to war. The most affected provinces are Nana Grebizi, Ouham and Ouham Pende and others in the east, where roads are impassable or non-existent.

On 23 February, six highwaymen on horseback armed with AK-47 assault rifles raided the village of Donzi, 255 km north of Bangui in Ouham Province, and wounded two villagers after stealing their property. In response, the village youth have formed a self-defence vigilante group of 27 volunteers, armed with hunting rifles.

[Central African Republic (CAR)] Self-defence volunteers in Donzi, a village 255 km north of Bangui, using hunting rifles to fight armed highway robbers. February 2004.

Northwest CAR has been the scene of clashes between government forces and rebels
IRIN
[Central African Republic (CAR)] Self-defence volunteers in Donzi, a village 255 km north of Bangui, using hunting rifles to fight armed highway robbers. February 2004.
http://www.irinnews.org
Monday, March 1, 2004
Kidnapped health workers released but NGOs stay away
[Central African Republic (CAR)] Self-defence volunteers in Donzi, a village 255 km north of Bangui, using hunting rifles to fight armed highway robbers. February 2004.
Donzi self defence volunteers

One of the volunteers patrolling the village round the clock is, Jean Mamadou. He told IRIN on 28 February that during the Donzi attack there had been a battle of a few hours before the robbers overwhelmed the villagers. It was the fourth on the village since November 2003, he said.

"All the activities have ceased and nobody can go to his farm or to other villages' markets," Mamadou said.

He added that the volunteers only had three bullets remaining. Following the attack, seven government soldiers were sent to the village to support the volunteers.

Homes destroyed during six-month rebellion

In Kabo, 446 km north of Bangui and 60 km from the Chadian border, cattle herders returning from exile in Chad are reportedly armed with modern guns and were letting their cattle invade villagers' farms.

A former rebel waiting for integration into the army and now on duty in Kabo, Desire Jassara, told IRIN on 27 February that security forces had recently arrested a cattle herder with an AK-47.

The insecurity is an extra burden to the villagers as their homes were burnt during the war in Kabo District. In fact, increased insecurity is one of the reasons why refugees are still reluctant to return home. Before the rebellion Kabo District had an estimated 22,700 residents. The district's secretary, Come Sama, told IRIN that now there were 18,000 people in the district, the rest having fled to refugee in camps in southern Chad.

Nearly a year after Bozize's coup, the populations in the northwest are still grappling with the impact of the rebellion. With time, they hope normalcy will return to their lives once again.

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