Getting health care has never been simple in the Central African Republic, where there’s a 16 percent chance a baby won’t make it past his or her fifth birthday and life expectancy tops out at age 50. But as violence has escalated in the wake of a coup in March, workers have fled government health clinics and many of the humanitarian organizations that have been propping up the country’s medical system have withdrawn from the country or cut back services.
At the same time, people who were forced from their homes by marauders are living in fields, where food is hard to come by and mosquitoes are plentiful. Malnutrition is rife, according to a new report from Médecins Sans Frontières. Cases of malaria, a leading cause of death, are climbing at an alarming rate.
Children have been hardest hit, said Ellen van der Velden, who heads up MSF’s head of mission in the Central African Republic. But that’s not surprising — research shows children who grow up in war-torn countries are more likely to be malnourished and more susceptible to disease. Eight of the 10 countries with the world’s highest child mortality rates are engaged in conflict. The Central African Republic ranks number six.
“For children, the biggest casualties of war are not caused by bullets,” said Philip Verwimp, an associate professor of development economics at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium. “Children are far more likely to die from malnutrition, exposure to infectious disease or lack of access to health care.”