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Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been forced to stop its activities almost entirely in the city of Batangafo, in northern Central African Republic (CAR). Around 40 MSF staff had to be evacuated because of the growing tension in the town which has resulted in violent incidents and threats against MSF.
MSF calls on the parties to the conflict to respect MSF’s structures and teams, whose sole purpose is to respond to the medical and humanitarian needs of the population they serve.
"We hope that people understand it takes tranquility and a physical space to work. And most importantly, we need to respect the physical and psychological integrity of our patients and employees," said the MSF head of mission in the country, Javier Eguren.
"For the last month, the team has been working with difficulty due to the lack of respect for the hospital facilities and threats to our staff," said the MSF medical advisor in the area, Cecilia Greco.
Escalating tension has caused thousands of people to seek shelter in the hospital compound.
A shootout took place on Sunday, 31st August, between armed militants and African peacekeeping forces (MISCA) and left several injured. MSF teams treated two people with gunshot wounds.
"Even more displaced have come after Sunday, nearly 3,000 people are inside the hospital," said Greco. She also claimed that "certain elements tried to seize Muslim patients and team members."
The temporary suspension of MSF activities in the Batangafo hospital affects hundreds of people who seek care daily as outpatients, as well as a hundred patients admitted to the centre. Some inpatients will be taken to the town of Kabo, about 50 miles away.
Severe cases or those requiring surgery will be referred to Kabo. The MSF-supported health posts in the outskirts of Batangafo are continuing their normal activities.
Tension has increased in the town after violent clashes between armed militias and French peacekeeping forces in early August.
The situation has deteriorated: there have been threats against MSF teams and an MSF staff house was raided for the second time in recent weeks.
These facts, together with the lack of security guarantees for health workers and hospital patients, led MSF to decide to withdraw the majority of its team from Batangafo.
MSF has worked in the Central African Republic since 1997, and currently has more than 300 international staff and more than 2,000 national staff in the country.
Since December 2013, MSF has doubled its level of medical care in response to the crisis, with the number of projects going from 10 to 21, and has also carried out six interventions for Central African refugees in neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Batangafo, MSF manages the general hospital (165 beds) and supports five health centres located on the outskirts of the town. In July, nearly 7,000 consultations were conducted, 3,000 of them for children under five-years-of-age.
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