Female Genital Mutilation in the Central African Republic
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” FGM has no health benefits, and in fact, it can lead to extreme health complications. This includes severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts and infections as well as complications in childbirth and the added risk of newborn deaths. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced mutilation in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. About three million girls per year are at risk of undergoing FGM before their 15th birthday without interventions to combat the prevalence of FGM. Female genital mutilation is a common practice in the Central African Republic.

The Prevalence of FGM in the Central African Republic

FGM is widespread in the Central African Republic. The average portion of women undergoing FGM in the Central African Republic is 24% but can range from 3%-53% depending on the province, according to UNICEF. Of those cut, 52% of girls underwent the procedure between the ages of 10 and 14.

The Orchid Project’s Work to End FGM

The Orchid Project is an NGO that focuses on ending FGM throughout the world. It does this by “catalyzing the global movement to end female genital cutting,” particularly by advocating among global leaders and governments to make sure that the elimination of FGM is a priority. The Orchid Project has a goal of eliminating all FGM by 2030. The project spreads awareness of the dangers of FGM through its website.

The Murua Girl Child Education Program

The Murua Girl Child Education Program is an organization that raises awareness of child rights and promotes children’s protection from harmful practices like FGM. Seleyian Partoip, the program’s founder and director, gave a speech at the International Conference on Population Development in Nairobi, Kenya. She says, “Every time I speak about FGC [female genital cutting], I speak as a survivor of the practice… My daughter will never speak as a survivor.” The program’s vision is to preserve, promote and protect cultural practices while stopping harmful traditions. It does this by reaching out to schools and communities and educating them on the dangers of harmful practices like FGM, while also teaching people about proper hygiene, their bodies and their rights. The program is based in Kenya but also reaches out to youth in other African countries.

28 Too Many’s Work to End FGM

28 Too Many is an organization that spreads awareness of female genital mutilation in the Central African Republic and other African countries. “The more we talk the better . . . [b]ut to fully eradicate FGM we need to have the authorities on our side enforcing the law,” said Marguerite Ramadan, president of the Central African Republic Committee of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices. 

Female genital mutilation is prevalent in the Central African Republic, but, the Orchid Project, the Murua Girl Child Education Program and others are working to end it. With the right education, outreach and awareness, communities will abandon the practice of female genital mutilation. Thanks to donations, these organizations can continue working toward their goal of eliminating the practice of female genital mutilation by 2030.

Neve Walker
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in the Central African Republic
The year 2020 was turbulent for the entire world. From high stake elections to a global pandemic, much change has occurred in a short amount of time. Yet, while many worry about COVID-19 and economic downfall, a shadow pandemic is raging across sub-Saharan Africa. Recent lockdowns and socioeconomic turmoil have resulted in a sharp uptick in sexual violence and femicide across several African states. Countries such as Liberia and Nigeria saw a 50% increase in rape and killings. Experts attributed a large number of said cases to mandatory curfews. However, limited women’s rights in the Central African Republic (CAR) is also a cause.

The Situation

The Central African Republic revealed a 27% increase in rape and a 69% increase in cases with violence dealt against women and children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women’s rights and safety have always been a longstanding issue for the Central African Republic. Besides having the rank of one of the least healthy and developed nations, the CAR ranks second highest for gender inequality globally. According to the U.N. Development Programme, COVID-19 presents a particular issue because “school and business closures, have meanwhile increased the domestic burdens borne by women and girls and sharply reduced their earnings, increasingly the existing vulnerabilities, confining them to homes they often share with their abusers and limiting access to support and health services.”

Since 2017, the CAR has reached out to donors and international organizations such as the U.N. and The International Development Association (IDA) to make longstanding changes. In that period, one can see progress in the fight for women’s rights in the Central African Republic.

Overview of Progress

While the CAR still struggles with women’s rights, generally, nonprofit organizations and international actors have taken action to help change the tide. Take, for instance, the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, which, since 2008, has provided local women’s activist information regarding the Rome Statute for Human Rights, resources to protect vulnerable women better and help in communicating with other women’s rights organizations. The organization has also promoted the training of lawyers and victims’ trust funds.

Another example of progress toward attaining better women’s rights in the CAR is the partnership with the Human Rights Council to host a series of hearings. These hearings focused on recent abuses and acts of extreme violence, especially those targeting women. The attendees were a series of international organizations such as U.N. Women and representatives from over 15 countries.

With the upcoming electoral season, the CAR has an even greater chance of radically transforming women’s rights in the country. The Secretary-General of the U.N., António Guterres, emphasized how, “All segments of the population of the Central African Republic, in particular women, young people, internally displaced persons and refugees, must be at the center of efforts to consolidate democracy and, consequently, of this electoral process.” Currently, the U.N. manages dialogue channels for opposing parties and interest groups to ensure the election is fair and peaceful. In essence, with the prospect of a new leader and parties coming to power, this could be the perfect opportunity to reform women’s rights.

Persisting Challenges

Although the U.N. and the CAR recently signed an agreement promising to tackle sexual violence by armed groups, the country still has a long way to go. For instance, rape victims in the CAR have little to no legal avenues to seek out reparations or any form of justice. Furthermore, medical aid for assault victims and women’s care, in general, is mostly underfunded and incredibly difficult to access.

Moreover, as the military conflict continues to destabilize the country, more and more women and young girls become victims of sex slavery and weaponized rape. Women in rural villages are primarily targeted, as rape is a psychological tactic in violent conflict. Many experts have argued that a specialized court dealing with said sexual crimes against women would be extremely effective at delivering justice.

Future Policy Recommendations

Aside from creating a network of specialized courts dealing with women’s rights and sexual violence, the CAR can still implement many policies and initiatives to promote women’s rights better. For instance, whistleblowing procedures should be put in place to protect aid workers who report sexual assault cases and violence amongst vulnerable populations. SOFEPADI, a Congolese NGO, has argued that development agencies need to better coordinate with each other to assist women caught in conflict and appoint women to positions of power within their organizations.

By reforming the way aid workers conduct with women in the CAR and funding more women lead organizations, the CAR and international actors can significantly improve the fight for women’s rights. However, another reform that the Central African Republic should consider is creating more economic development zones for marginalized peoples, such as women.

At a recent U.N. general assembly meeting, several African leaders advocated creating fiscal spaces to invest in social needs, especially in regard to women. Reforms such as this can significantly improve women’s livelihood, educate young girls and grant women in the CAR significant socio-economic autonomy. The CAR may not rank the best in women’s rights, but as time passes and international actors continue their efforts, hope exists for change.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Central African RepublicOne year after repatriation efforts began, refugees from the Central African Republic are returning home. Although repatriation operations began in November 2019, the return of refugees from the Central African Republic was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Enhanced health and safety precautions made their return possible. The United Nations Refugee Agency, a U.N. agency responsible for protecting refugees, organized the implementation of health and safety precautions. Measures included the use of masks and temperature screening. Handwashing stations were also installed to prevent the spread of disease.

Central African Republic Refugees

Repatriation efforts began after security conditions in the Central African Republic improved. Stability in the country has developed at a slow pace. Less violence in regions of the Central African Republic known for volatile shifts prompted the voluntary return of refugees.

Beginning in 2012, violent confrontations between armed factions throughout the Central African Republic forced more than 500,000 people to flee. Thousands more went into hiding, often in the wilderness, where access to food and clean water is scarce. A staggering rate of poverty among citizens of the Central African Republic reflects years of political instability.

Poverty in the Central African Republic

Both domestically and abroad, refugees from the Central African Republic experience rates of extreme poverty and hunger. The Central African Republic was one of the last two countries on the 2018 Human Development Index ranking. Combined with the political instability of the nation, the Central African Republic’s low development score contributes to the nation’s high rate of poverty.

With a population of a little less than five million people, almost 80% of the country’s people live in poverty. While political instability is a major factor that contributes to the high rate of poverty in the country, meager production rates, insufficient markets and pronounced gender inequality also contribute to the high rate of poverty. Additionally, it is estimated that nearly half of the population of the country experiences food insecurity.

Alarmingly, almost 90% of food insecure individuals in the country are classed as severely food insecure, which is nearly two million people. This has particularly devastating effects for children aged between 6 months and 5 years old. More than one-third of all children within that age range are stunted due to lack of appropriate dietary nutrition.

The World Food Programme Alliance

In partnership with the government of the Central African Republic and other humanitarian organizations, the World Food Programme (WFP) provided emergency food and nutritional assistance to nearly 100,000 people, in 2018. This assistance was delivered to individuals who were affected by the violence that resulted from the coup in 2013, the civil violence that was unleashed by competing factions after the coup and the violence that continued through 2017, as hostility between armed groups was reignited. This method of the WFP’s humanitarian aid involves the distribution of food packages and the implementation of nutrition activities for children and pregnant mothers.

Time will tell whether refugees are returning to a country that will eventually provide for them. Through various initiatives, including Food Assistance for Assets and Purchase for Progress, the WFP hopes to turn civic, humanitarian functions over to the country’s government.

Food Assistance for Assets and Purchase for Progress

Both the Food Assistance for Assets and Purchase for Progress initiatives were designed by the United Nations to help partner nations achieve objectives set by the ‘Zero Hunger’ Sustainable Development Goal. Food Assistance for Assets “addresses immediate food needs through cash, voucher or food transfers.” Its response to immediate needs is paired with a long-term approach. Food Assistance for Assets “promotes the building or rehabilitation of assets that will improve long-term food security and resilience.”

Purchase for Progress works in tandem with Food Assistance for Assets. It is a food purchase initiative, whereby the WFP purchases more than $1 billion worth of staple food annually from smallholder farms. This food is used by the WFP in its global humanitarian efforts. Meanwhile, its ongoing investment in smallholder farms contributes to national economies.

Through the initiatives of the World Food Programme and its dedicated efforts for humanitarian assistance and hunger eradication, the Central African Republic will hopefully reach a point where its citizens never again have to flee the country they call home.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

Improving Conditions for Refugees in the Central African RepublicRefugees are beginning to return home to the Central African Republic after years of religious internal conflict. Around 600,000 people have been displaced internally and another 600,000 displaced internationally since the start of the conflict. Now, about 2.6 million people that once resided peacefully in the CAR are reliant on humanitarian assistance. The U.N. has been heavily involved in peacekeeping missions and is beginning the process of transferring the Central African Republic refugees back to home soil.

Political Progress in the CAR

The Central African Republic’s politics are one way that citizens will regain their freedom within the country. The U.N. Security Council is interacting with the CAR government to get humanitarian war crimes accounted for and penalized. The war has led to numerous human rights violations and international forums have condemned the actions. Other political progress is being made to elect leaders based on a democratic method. The proposed elections are seen as a method of peacefully negotiating between political differences without force. This holistic method of finding peace incurs that the problem be examined from all angles and solutions will be diverse.

Refugees’ Experience and Local Aid

Since the CAR is land-locked, refugees have scattered in camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Chad, Cameroon and Sudan. The journey for many leaving the territory of the CAR was extreme. Many refugees walked for weeks, hid in forests and were plagued with malnutrition. The resilience of the refugees is coming to fruition in the current transition to peace. Much progress is being made on the ground in the CAR that would create more stability in the government and society.

The problems faced by the displaced are numerous but also change from one area to the next. Much is being done to ease their basic needs, as the area is veiled in violence. The United Nations has adapted to local aid initiatives that provide effective assistance. Additionally, the U.N. has contributed $14.3 million to “help support local aid agencies deliver clean water, education, healthcare, livelihoods support, nutrition, protection and shelter.” Each of these assists makes the return of refugees more possible and more likely.

Humanitarian Aid

One institution committed to helping the Central African Republic refugees is UNICEF. The major ways the organization has contributed to the cause has to do with basic needs being met. For children, the organization is delivering Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic-Food that fights malnutrition and providing immunizations against diseases. Additionally, UNICEF is providing clean water, setting up temporary shelters, training teachers and encouraging education in camps and opening accessible sanitization stations. These major provisions are invaluable and majorly supporting the needs of refugees.

Another high priority for UNICEF is the resettlement of refugees within the country. The Central African Republic refugees, either internally or externally displaced, have begun rebuilding their lives. In 2019, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) propelled a $430 million campaign to assist displaced refugees of the Central African Republic. Although funding and donations have not fulfilled this expensive plan, the campaign has certainly made headway. The coordination of funds is extremely beneficial in restructuring the country and enforcing the progress made in the developing peace agreements.

Major strides in assistance, both political and humanitarian, are making peace possible in the Central African Republic. The basic relief provided by both UNICEF and UNHCR is stabilizing the situation for refugees worldwide. As displaced groups transition back to their homes, currently and in the future, the assistance will be instrumental in securing a steady return.

– Eva Pound
Photo: Flickr 

Poverty in the Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CAR) is a landlocked country in Africa, neighboring Chad, Sudan, Cameroon and more. Although CAR has an abundance of natural resources, including gold, diamonds, uranium and oil, it is one of the poorest nations in the world. Following violence and political turmoil in 2013, the country is still recovering. Here are five important facts about poverty in the Central African Republic.

5 Facts About Poverty in the Central African Republic

  1. The Numbers: Approximately 71% of the Central African Republic’s population lives below the international poverty line. Additionally, due to violence and conflict, there are around 613,114 refugees from the Central African Republic and 641,292 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. Health is also a major concern, with a maternal mortality rate of 890 per 100,000 live births.
  2. History of Poverty and Conflict: There are many reasons why the Central African Republic has such high poverty rates. The main reason lies in the history of the nation. After CAR gained independence from France in 1960, it had religious rivalries, a variety of ethnic groups and multiple political ideologies. Conflict between different religious and social groups as well as competition over resources caused widespread instability throughout the country. This culminated in a more recent outbreak of violence in 2013, which has left more than 2.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.
  3. Major Health Conditions: The leading causes of deaths in the Central African Republic include tuberculosis, diarrheal diseases, HIV/AIDS and malaria. In 2018, malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, was reported at a rate of 347.3 cases per 100,000 people. This represents a significant decrease from previous years, as there were approximately 434.5 cases per 100,000 people in 2010. Additionally, there are approximately 100,000 people living with HIV in CAR.
  4. Life Expectancy: Life expectancy in the Central African Republic is among the lowest in the world. As of 2020, it is only 53.35 years. This is a 0.64% increase since 2019, when the life expectancy was 53.01 years. Life expectancy is low in the CAR due to widespread violence and displacement as well as the aforementioned health concerns. In addition to malaria and HIV, 41% of the population suffers from chronic malnutrition. On a positive note, the life expectancy of the CAR has been steadily improving since 2002; in 2002, the life expectancy in the CAR was only 44.29 years.
  5. Education and Literacy: The literacy rate in the Central African Republic is also one of the lowest in the world, at 37.4%. The CAR is struggling to provide high-quality education for its children, particularly girls. Many girls find themselves dropping out of school because of the societal pressures to marry and have children. Only 65% of girls enter the first year of primary school and only 23% of them finish the 6 years of primary school.

Currently, organizations like the World Food Program, USAID and the International Rescue Committee are working to alleviate poverty in the Central African Republic and address the humanitarian crisis. Efforts include distributing food to internally displaced people, providing specialized nutrition packages for pregnant women, rebuilding educational infrastructure and recovering clean water sources. Moving forward, it is essential that these humanitarian organizations and others continue to provide aid and support to the nation.

Alison Choi
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in the Central African Republic
Poverty is an issue the Central African Republic continues to face. In fact, around 71% of the Central African Republic’s population lives below the estimated international poverty line. In particular, child poverty in the Central African Republic is prevalent with an estimated half of the country’s population being under the age of 14. Many of these children are born into poverty, a situation they did not choose.

The Central African Republic is also one of the most impoverished nations in Africa; about 60% of the population lives in poverty. Some of the largest issues that children in the Central African Republic face are low enrollment for primary school, various armed conflicts and malnutrition. While these are big burdens, there are several solutions that should drastically improve the situation of child poverty in the Central African Republic.

Low Enrollment for School

In countries that poverty ravages, schools can be a safe haven for many children. Not only do they offer a stable and caring environment, but they can also offer a lifeline to many children with hopes and dreams of leaving their situation. There are schools in the Central African Republic, such as the Youth Education Pack, that specifically teach trades and other professions to help young people obtain skills during the COVID-19 pandemic. Youth Education Pack receives funding from Education Cannot Wait, a fund that is working towards providing education during crises.

The Central African Republic enrollment is incredibly low, with only 62% of boys and around 41% of girls enrolled in primary school. This creates a significant gap, with many children already deep into poverty not going to school to progress. One cause of this problem is the various armed groups in the country. One of these is the People’s Army for the Restoration of Democracy, which frequently kidnaps children and forces them to fight.

While some attend school, the problems continue. Around 6% of high schoolers in the Central African Republic complete school. One solution would be to dedicate more resources to education. Through schooling, many children in poverty in the Central African Republic would be able to both learn and grow, while progressing in their education and moving from their current living conditions. After school programs could be of great use and benefit as well, allowing children to have a safe space away from their home lives. Baha’i communities are an incredible example, where they have found multiple ways to prioritize and bring education to children who need it. There is a definitive aspiration by many to boost education in the Central African Republic and more success stories such as the one in Baha’i are inevitable.

Armed Conflict

Unfortunately, warring groups often recruit or kidnap many children of the Central African Republic to fight as soldiers. While many generally consider the use of children in warfare abhorrent, children are often incredibly susceptible to this. They are much easier to manipulate through coercion and threats of violence to themselves and their families. These children often become physically and mentally scarred by what they have seen and done.

An effective solution is to create more programs to help reintegrate former child soldiers. As stated before, many of these children need psychological help. By being able to discuss their trauma with professionals, they are able to process what happened to them and recover from the lasting effects. Other programs must emerge to make sure children do not even join said groups in the first place, educating them on what happens when they become child soldiers.

There are efforts already on the ground to help reduce child poverty in the Central African Republic. For example, War Child has been successful in helping former child soldiers of the Central African Republic, aiding around 7,947 children in 2018 alone. Another such organization is UNICEF, which has been reintegrating child soldiers for nearly 13 years after signing an agreement with the government as well as a rebel group known as Assembly of the Union of Democratic Forces. While there is a great deal that needs to happen, there is hope for the children of the Central African Republic who the armed conflicts of the region personally affect.

Malnutrition

 A significant problem amongst impoverished children in the Central African Republic is malnutrition. It is almost a residual effect of poverty itself and of the other problems that children face in the Central African Republic, mentioned above.

Around 38% of children in the Central African Republic are chronically malnourished and in need of serious care. This is parallel to the armed conflicts as well as the considerable rise in both food prices as well as shortages. In fact, around 45% of people in the country suffer from some level of food insecurity. These problems create a cycle where a lack of food resources for farming creates poverty and poverty itself creates more food shortages.

Luckily, many organizations, like the World Food Programme (WFP), are helping combat child malnutrition in the Central African Republic. WFP began the Central African Republic Interim Country Strategic Plan in 2018, a plan which aspires to help many children and at-risk families receive food daily. This can and will tremendously help combat the issue at hand and ensure that many children do not go hungry.

WFP’s efforts extend towards schools with its school feeding programs as well. These programs have both had positive effects on school attendance as well as the nutrition of many children. Malnutrition might be a definitive problem facing the Central African Republic, but much effort is going into making sure children receive the proper nutrients daily.

While the impoverished children in the Central African Republic seem to be in an incredibly tough spot physically, mentally and emotionally, there is a future for them. Many organizations have dedicated themselves to helping them. Moreover, the granting of awareness about child poverty in the Central African Republic should help prompt others into swift action.

Remy Desai-Patel
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in the Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CAR), a landlocked country in Central Africa, has one of the highest rates of hunger in the world. In fact, it ranks second-to-last on the 2019 Human Development Index. After gaining independence from France in 1960, the country has struggled with weak markets, low productivity, gender inequality and hunger following years of political instability and conflict.

Hunger in the Central African Republic has become a more drastic concern as a result of a 2013 coup, which ousted President François Bozizé and led to a 36% reduction in the country’s GDP. The country’s ongoing civil war, with renewed violence starting in 2017, has displaced people from their homes and has led to rising food prices due to weakened food production. While much of the country is self-sufficient in food crops like cassava, peanuts and millet, the tsetse fly has hindered livestock development.

Natural Impacts on Agriculture

In the Central African Republic, the tsetse fly has contributed to a disease called animal trypanosomiasis, a fatal disease that impacts cattle and wild animals. The tsetse fly is responsible for killing off a significant portion of CAR’s livestock. Tsetse flies also cause sleeping sickness in humans. This can lead to seizures, central nervous system failure, fever and weight loss. With little food or clean water, people with sleeping sickness are often unable to recover from these symptoms.

According to researcher Paterne Mombe in a Wilson Center interview, the government of CAR enacted agricultural policies over the last 50 years that shifted focus towards importing food instead of growing it themselves. This has resulted in underperforming agricultural output. As a result of poor agricultural practices, Mombe stated that this has led to conflict against the government, the destruction of farmland and lack of policy reform. From 2012 to 2016, agricultural production of the country dropped to 65%.

Of the country’s 4.8 million people, 79% live in poverty, caused by not only displacement and conflict but also a below-average agricultural season and COVID-19 prevention measures. Although the rainfall level in 2020 has been generally average, the vegetation index is slightly in deficit due to the low rainfall that occurred between January and February 2020, subsequently leading to increasing prices for agricultural goods. The CDC has deemed the COVID-19 risk in CAR as high, meaning that movement restrictions have contributed to sharp increases in the price of essential food items, diminishing the ability of poor households to purchase food. The IPC predicts that COVID-19 will “have a drastic impact” on the economy and food supply chains.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Central African Republic

According to USAID, there were more than 697,000 IDPs in CAR in March 2020, as well as 616,000 Central African refugees in neighboring countries. Although the Government and 14 armed groups in the country signed a Peace Agreement in 2019, escalating conflict in the northeast of the country displaced another approximately 27,000 people between December 2019 and March 2020. As much of the population relies heavily on farming for their food, those who have experienced displacement have struggled to adjust to new climates or geographies; others have fled to areas prone to high food prices, poor access to clean water and few employment opportunities.

Concerning hunger in the Central African Republic, the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report found that 750,000 people are in a food insecurity emergency (which is a phase below famine), while 1.6 million are in a food insecurity crisis (which is a stage below emergency). Around February 2013, estimates determined that slightly over 20% of the country’s population were in urgent need of assistance, as opposed to over 40% in 2020.

CAR Ranks Unhealthiest Country in the World

The United Nations reported that an estimated 1.3 million people in CAR will require assistance to prevent and treat malnutrition in 2020, which includes nearly 50,000 children under 5 years of age suffering from severe malnutrition. A study by researchers at the University of Seattle in 2016 found that CAR ranks first in unhealthiest countries, due to malnutrition, AIDS and lack of resources. The UN World Food Programme has also noted that around 40% of children aged between 6 months and 5 years are stunted due to a lack of nutrients in their diet. The IPC has projected that some households in northwestern, southeastern and southwestern CAR will require emergency food assistance in the coming months to avoid emergency levels of acute food insecurity.

Response to the Central African Republic’s Hunger Crisis

In response to heightened food insecurity in CAR, the World Food Programme (WFP) and non-governmental organizations, have worked to prevent and treat malnutrition with funding from USAID’s Office of Food for Peace. In collaboration with the European Commission and countries like Germany and South Korea, WFP has provided emergency food and nutrition assistance to conflict-affected people throughout the country. These efforts reached over 920,000 people in 2018.

The WFP has recently scaled up its general food distributions and has conducted a food security program for children under 5 and pregnant and nursing mothers. It has also helped strengthen CAR’s Zero Hunger policies, including doubling producer incomes and adapting food systems to eliminate waste. The WFP also offers rehabilitation programs like Food Assistance for Assets, which provides people with work like repairing roads and bridges. Another program is Purchase for Progress, which helps poor farmers gain access to reliable markets to sell crops at a surplus.

Started in 2007, the organization ACTED provides emergency relief to the most vulnerable and displaced populations. It also works to strengthen the resilience of populations and local authorities. ACTED currently has teams in Ouham Pendé, Ouaka, Basse Kotto, Mbomou, Haut Mbomou and the capital Bangui. Meanwhile, other organizations like Concern Worldwide, Mercy Corps and Oxfam International are helping combat food insecurity through food-for-assets activities, food vouchers and local agriculture initiatives.

However, as COVID-19 continues to negatively impact the lives of thousands of civilians in CAR, hunger in the Central African Republic needs increased attention and aid to battle the rise of acute malnutrition in the midst of a civil war. The IPC advises that organizations implement urgent actions targeted at the most critical regions to facilitate access to food, put in place measures to prevent and combat COVID-19’s spread and improve food utilization by facilitating the access of populations to drinking water sources and awareness of hygiene and sanitation protocols.

– Noah Sheidlower
Photo: Flickr

Trypanosomiasis in the Central African Republic
Trypanosomiasis, a parasitic infection that is transmittable to humans through bites from the tsetse fly, is an illness common only among those living in sub-Saharan Africa. People living in rural areas and those who depend on agriculture, hunting or fishing for their food are most exposed to the infection. Poverty, war and failed healthcare systems can contribute to the spread of trypanosomiasis. Proper diagnosis requires a skilled staff and early treatment can help prevent the infection from worsening. The Central African Republic (CAR) has the highest number of cases of the disease in the world. Trypanosomiasis in the Central African Republic is a pressing health issue, which demands sustained funding for treatment and medical training.

About the Infection

Also known as human African sleeping sickness, trypanosomiasis is most prevalent in the 36 sub-Saharan African countries, including the CAR. There are two types of trypanosomiasis. Depending on which parasite causes the disease, an infected individual could have Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense or Trypanosoma brucei gambiense (the more common of the two). If an individual becomes sick with the latter, symptoms can go unnoticed for months or years before the infection begins to affect their central nervous system. Symptoms include fever, headaches, confusion, poor coordination and irregular sleep patterns. Transmission of trypanosomiasis can occur from mother to child, a tsetse fly bite or sexual contact with an infected person.

If trypanosomiasis goes untreated, an individual can experience worsening symptoms and can eventually enter a coma — hence the infection’s nickname (sleeping sickness). People in the CAR are especially susceptible to contracting the disease from doing agricultural work. Much of the population of the CAR lives in rural areas, depending heavily on subsistence farming to survive. More than 55% of the nation’s GDP stems from agriculture and 80% of the workforce is in the farming industry. Since citizens are dependent on farming and hunting for their food, they are at a higher risk of exposure to the tsetse fly and thus, have an increased rate of contracting trypanosomiasis.

Treating Trypanosomiasis

Infected individuals’ symptoms often go unnoticed or untreated. The CAR’s political climate, high poverty rate and lack of proper healthcare centers all facilitate the spreading and worsening of the infection. As of 2018, more than 71% of the population lived below the world’s poverty level, meaning that medical staff and treatment were inaccessible to most citizens living with trypanosomiasis in the Central African Republic. The country is also recovering from the violence of late 2013, which left many hospitals and offices ransacked or closed. Due to these various factors, citizens suffering from trypanosomiasis in the Central African Republic have few options for testing and medication.

There is one well-known medication that can treat the disease, called nifurtimox-eflornithine combination therapy (NECT). Though NECT can significantly help patients with trypanosomiasis, the treatment includes multiple injections and close monitoring of the symptoms — both of which are usually unavailable or difficult to follow through to completion.

The Good News

However, with combined efforts from the government and other organizations, more patients suffering from the illness are receiving treatment. With help from the World Health Organization (WHO), CAR’s government is monitoring the cases and number of deaths from trypanosomiasis and working to provide more clinics, healthcare professionals and medication. The WHO and CAR’s health sectors aim to eliminate transmission of the disease by 2030. With only 997 cases and 164 deaths reported in 2018 (the lowest number in the 80-year battle with the disease), the CAR is on track to reach this goal partially due to consistent outside aid.

One notable international organization, Médecins San Frontières, mobilizes doctors and nurses throughout the CAR to provide free diagnoses and medication for those who have trypanosomiasis. Citizens are made aware of the free medical care and the organization can screen thousands of patients.

Over the next few years, help from organizations like the WHO and Médecins San Frontières can lead to adequate testing and medication for citizens with trypanosomiasis in the Central African Republic. It is imperative that organizations and countries in a position to help — contribute trained medical staff, funding and medicine to aid in the CAR’s fight against trypanosomiasis.

Danielle Kuzel
Photo: Flickr

Measles in the Central African Republic
Measles is a viral infection spread through airborne respiratory droplets from an infected individual. Measles can cause typical flu-like symptoms and a skin rash, and, under certain circumstances, it can lead to death. While the illness is virtually obsolete in more developed countries, other countries, such as the Central African Republic, struggle with keeping it at bay. Here are four important facts you should know about measles in the Central African Republic.

4 Facts About Measles in the Central African Republic

  1. Measles primarily affects children. The viral infection is especially taxing on those with weakened immune systems. Thus, children, especially those who are malnourished or HIV-positive, are more likely to become infected and die from the measles. In 2017, only 49% of Central African children under five years of age received vaccinations against measles. In the resurgence of measles in 2019, 90% of cases in the Central African Republic affected children aged 10 or younger. Although a safe vaccine is available, many Central African families have been displaced, live in rural areas or do not have access to a nearby healthcare center. With the help of foreign aid, the government can initiate more vaccinations and widespread awareness – two critical components in combating measles.
  2. The fight against measles in the Central African Republic is ongoing. For more than 40 years, Central African citizens have struggled with measles. The epidemic is a health crisis and is at the top of the country’s political priorities. In 2014, with the help of the Red Cross and the United Nations, the government of the Central African Republic rolled out a vaccination campaign. It aimed to provide free measles vaccines for more than 115,000 children. However, in January 2019, a resurgence of the measles appeared in the Central African Republic. Since then, the citizens have been fighting widespread outbreaks of the disease. From January 2019 to February 2020, there were more than 7,000 new cases of the measles and 83 deaths.
  3. Vaccines are hard to distribute in the Central African Republic’s war-torn political climate. As of 2017, nearly 900,000 Central Africans had fled violence and unrest. More than half of these displaced people were children. Children and adults are more likely to contract measles and die if they are subjected to overcrowding, malnutrition, immunosuppression or poor healthcare systems. The political turmoil throughout the country can cause these factors to become more prevalent and inhibit effective immunizations. Furthermore, the looting and closing of healthcare facilities across the country has stifled the progress made by previous vaccination campaigns.
  4. The government is working with other international organizations to eradicate measles in the Central African Republic. As a response to the recent outbreaks, the Ministry of Health partnered with the World Health Organization to develop specialized courses of action and vaccination campaigns. They have increased epidemiological tracing, communication about the disease’s risks and vaccination and medicine availability. Additionally, the Center for Emergency Operations in Public Health has aided government officials in devising plans for dealing with outbreaks. Another important international program is Gavi, an alliance that promotes free access to vaccinations all over the globe. Gavi has helped the Central African Republic fund measles treatment and follow-up vaccines by donating more than $1 million to the cause. Similarly, USAID has helped in the fight against measles by making financial donations that fund testing and vaccinations.

Although the prevalence of measles in the Central African Republic is serious, the government and other organizations are committed to fighting it. Moving forward, continued efforts are needed to reduce the prevalence of measles in the nation.

– Danielle Kuzel
Photo: Flickr

HIV in the Central African Republic

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has affected millions of people around the world for many decades. If left untreated, HIV can slowly develop into Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and leave those infected with a compromised immune system. Thousands of individuals have suffered from the disease or lost their life to it since the first reported case in the Central African Republic in 1984. The country has mobilized numerous efforts to combat the disease but still requires assistance to ensure that the citizens have adequate testing and access to medicine. Here are five important facts to know about HIV in the Central African Republic.

5 Facts About HIV in the Central African Republic

  1. Around 5,000 citizens die each year from HIV/AIDS in the Central African Republic. In 2018, more than 5,000 individuals died from AIDS-related causes and an estimated 110,000 citizens were living with illness. Though the infection rate still remains high, the efforts being made to stop the spread of HIV have been effective. In 2010, the prevalence of HIV in the Central African Republic was 5% and according to recent data acquired in 2018, the rate has decreased, with only 3.6% of the population living with the disease.
  2. HIV in the Central African Republic primarily affects homosexual men and sex workers. In the Central African Republic, the number of HIV infections are extremely high in the sex worker population, with a prevalence of 9.2%. Similarly, gay men are also at an increased risk for contracting the virus, with a prevalence of 25.4%. Though these two demographics make up a smaller portion of the nation’s population, the lack of testing and awareness affects every citizen in the Central African Republic. With the help of funding from other countries and organizations, the Central African Republic can begin to provide more medicine and diagnostic centers for individuals.
  3. ART can treat HIV yet is seldom available in every community. While there is no cure for the virus, there is a well-known therapy for slowing it down. The treatment for HIV is a multi-drug regime known as antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART can alleviate the severity of HIV if a person begins treatment after diagnosis. While ART does not kill the virus, it stops the virus from creating DNA in the fourth phase of cell formation and slows the spread of HIV in the body. However, in remote cities like Zemio, medicine and supplies are hard to find. The prevalence of HIV is more than 12% higher in remote regions than it is in the rest of the Central African Republic. The HIV-positive residents in these areas seek comfort and support in Community Antiretroviral therapy Groups (CAGs). Some preemptive strategies for HIV-prevention include condom use, using new needles and premature testing. It is imperative that the citizens, especially those already diagnosed with HIV in the Central African Republic, have suitable access to new condoms and needles.
  4. Due to the political turmoil in the Central African Republic, testing and medicine have become inaccessible to some regions. Because of the conflict arising in the country and other surrounding areas in 2013, ransacking or closing of medical centers weakened the already struggling healthcare system. The political unrest and violence that ensued also resulted in individuals with HIV to avoid seeking treatment or to stop taking their medication. With an increase in displacement, poverty levels and closing of healthcare facilities, individuals in the Central African Republic are in dire need of trained medical staff, consistent medical treatment and more testing sites. It is imperative for the citizens living with HIV in the Central African Republic that other nations continue to increase funding for testing locations, training and medicine.
  5. Other countries and organizations are helping in numerous ways. The Central African Republic depends heavily on funding from other countries to provide treatment for its citizens, with more than 90% of the money spent on individuals with HIV coming from international sources. After the political instability faced by the country in 2013, The United Nations Refugee Agency, also known as the UNHCR, assisted the healthcare facilities in rebuilding their database and providing immediate treatment for refugees and asylum-seekers. UNICEF, another global organization, also provides technical services and financial aid for the Central African Republic. With the help of UNICEF, the country can provide more testing, ARV treatment and care for pregnant women with HIV.

HIV has been prevalent in the Central African Republic since the first case was reported in 1984. While the virus impacts many people, weakening their immune systems, organizations are stepping in to help. Outside funding and support from agencies like UNHCR and UNICEF are helping reduce the prevalence of HIV in the country. 

Danielle Kuzel
Photo: Flickr