The airport in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, has become a vast, makeshift internally displaced persons site providing some shelter to the 100,000 people who have recently fled fighting.
Soon after arriving, I visit the country’s only paediatric hospital and it quickly becomes clear why so many have had to flee their homes. One small boy has his head wrapped up snugly in white bandages. His name is Bruno and he is 11 years old.
On the 31st December 2013, Bruno was shot in the head when the men attacking his home couldn’t find his father. An x-ray of Bruno’s head clearly shows the bullet that was lodged in the left side of his skull. The bullet has been successfully removed by a doctor at the UNICEF-supported paediatric hospital.
This brave young boy survived but his mother is very worried about him because he appears to be paralysed down his right side. He can’t hold up his x-ray picture with his right hand.
Bruno is just one of several children injured by recent violence in Bangui who are now being cared for at the hospital, explains Doctor Simplice Kanago. In the next room a 3-year old boy’s arm is wrapped thickly with bandages. He was deliberately shot in the arm in a retaliation shooting. In the following room, a 14-year old boy is recovering from a bullet in his leg.
Children deliberately targeted
What is more shocking than the unnecessary anguish and pain that these children have been through is that many of these children seem to have been deliberately shot, though there are others being treated at the hospital who were hit by stray bullets.
UNICEF assistance to the paediatric hospital includes the provision of health kits, emergency health care support and nutrition supplies. UNICEF also helped fund expansion of the nutritional centre.
Hunger also a growing risk
The expansion of the nutritional centre has been important because, not only has recent conflict resulted in many more children injured by bullets, grenades and machetes, but there is also the negative impact of conflict and insecurity on children’s nutritional status.
Doctor Kanogo has been sleeping at the hospital for the past three weeks due to the insecurity. His case load of severely malnourished children being treated at the hospital has almost tripled recently with some 125 severely malnourished children currently receiving life-saving nutritional assistance through UNICEF-support with Action Contre la Faim. Fortunately, all treatment for injured or malnourished children at the hospital is provided free of charge.
At least three people were killed and many more injured on Friday night alone in continuing violence in Bangui. Many homes are being ransacked and looted, including the home of at least one of UNICEF CAR’s national staff. Insecurity and violence continue to displace families and to disrupt economic activities across Bangui.
Photos and words by Kent Page, UNICEF, Central African Republic
* ‘Bruno’s’ name has been changed to protect his identity.