Injured by bullets, children fight to survive in Central African Republic
By Kent Page
As insecurity in the capital of the Central African Republic continues to threaten the lives of children, UNICEF is helping support those providing protection and medical treatment for the youngest victims of violence.
BANGUI, Central African Republic – Early Saturday morning I arrived in Bangui as part of UNICEF's emergency response team in the Central African Republic. As the plane taxied towards the airport terminal, we could see the vast site bordering the airport where 100,000 people have built a makeshift camp after they fled fighting in and around Bangui.
Our visit a few hours later to the country’s only pediatric hospital made it clear that they fled their homes for good reason.
For example, on the last day of 2013, a small 11-year-old boy, Bruno*, was shot in the head when the men attacking his home couldn't find his father. An X-ray of Bruno's skull clearly shows the bullet that was lodged in the left side of his skull.
The bullet was removed from his head by a doctor at the UNICEF-supported pediatric hospital, and Bruno's wound is now wrapped snugly in white bandages.
The brave young boy is recovering in hospital, but his mother is worried because he is slightly paralyzed on one side and can't hold up his X-ray picture with his right hand.
Photo: A young boy at the UNICEF-supported paediatric hospital in Bangui holds the X-ray that shows the bullet that was lodged in his skull.
Bruno is just one of several children injured in recent violence who are being cared for at the hospital, explains Dr. Simplice Kanago. In the room next door, a 3-year-old boy's arm is wrapped thickly with bandages. He was shot in the arm in a retaliation shooting. And in the next room, a 14-year-old boy is recovering from a bullet wound in his leg.
What is more shocking than the anguish and pain that these children have been through is that many seem to have been deliberately targeted, although there are others at the hospital who were injured by stray bullets.
UNICEF assistance to the pediatric hospital includes provision of health kits and nutrition supplies and emergency health-care support. UNICEF also helped fund the expansion of the nutritional centre – important because the conflict has not only resulted in many more children injured by bullets, grenades and machetes, but it has also had a negative impact on the nutritional status of children.
Photo: A mother and her young child sleep in one of the beds at the UNICEF-supported nutritional centre in the only paediatric hospital in the Central African Republic.
According to Dr. Kanago – who for the past three weeks has slept at the hospital because of insecurity – the caseload of severely malnourished children being treated at the hospital has almost tripled, with some 125 severely malnourished children currently receiving life-saving nutritional assistance through the support of UNICEF and NGO Action Contre la Faim (ACF).
Just the night before I arrived, at least three people were killed and many more injured in Bangui, and many homes were ransacked and looted, including the home of at least one UNICEF staff member. Insecurity and violence continue to displace families and disrupt their economic activities across the city.
Fortunately, treatment for injured or malnourished children at the hospital is provided free of charge.
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