Cameroon – Critical nutritional situation for Central African refugees

Mortality rates and the medical and nutritional situation among the refugees that have been entering Cameroon for over a year have exceeded emergency thresholds. In response to this situation, MSF has begun targeted food distribution to meet the vital needs of this vulnerable population. Now more than ever, it is essential for humanitarian actors to mobilise as quickly as possible.

The civil war and violence that are tearing apart the Central African Republic (CAR) have lead to the exodus of some 78,000 people, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to Chad, Sudan and Cameroon. Since 2006, more than 26,000 members of the nomadic Bororo tribe have been forced to take refuge at over 59 sites along Cameroon’s eastern border. After a year with insufficient protection and assistance, these populations have fallen into a cycle of vulnerability that, in recent months, has led to a serious deterioration in their medical and nutritional situation.

In the town of Gbiti, in the country’s East Province, the results of anthropometric measurements of 771 children between 6 months and 5 years of age show severe acute malnutrition of 3.9%, as well as moderate acute malnutrition of 7.4%. Even more critical figures have been found among 5 to 10 year olds, with 7.5% severe and 16.3% moderate. Given that young children are most vulnerable to malnutrition, these figures simply reflect the worsening food situation of these populations and the delay in sending assistance. Furthermore, the excessive mortality rates at the sites around Ngaoui, Ndokayo and Gbiti – between 3 and 7 deaths per 10,000 people per day, which is 3 to 7 times higher than the emergency threshold – are alarming and constitute one of the visible signs of the distress of these refugees.

“The situation of these people, who have been neglected for too long, has reached a critical phase in terms of nutrition,” stressed Christian Captier, General Director of Médecins Sans Frontières - Switzerland, during his last visit to the region.

In response to this situation, MSF has begun distributing supplementary food rations in the East Province, where more than 12 tonnes of food have already been distributed to 2,398 recipients (children under the age of 10 and their mothers) across 3 sites, as an interim measure until the United Nations starts coordinating the general distribution of food. These food rations are accompanied by active screening and the implementation of a medical and nutritional care strategy for the most urgent cases, in collaboration with Cameroon’s Ministry of Public Health, in the most critical areas.

MSF expresses its concern and urges humanitarian actors to act as quickly as possible to provide nutritional and medical assistance to these populations, who have been neglected for too long.

MSF has been present in Cameroon since 1984 and works in collaboration with the Ministry of Health on HIV/AIDS projects in Yaoundé and Douala. MSF also has a team at Akonolinga Hospital, for the treatment of a neglected disease: the Buruli ulcer.