SEATTLE, Washington — The Central African Republic is in a health crisis. Poor infrastructure, a continuing civil war and staggering poverty levels leave the country in a weak shape to combat deadly diseases. Significant examples include HIV, malaria and yellow fever, not to mention the havoc wrought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, tuberculosis still stands out as a severe issue in the Central African Republic, demanding domestic and international concern.
Tuberculosis and Poverty
Tuberculosis is the ninth leading cause of death worldwide, and the Central African Republic is a hotspot. According to Knoema, the death rate for the disease in the Central African Republic ranks eleventh globally, with roughly 107 people out of 100,00 dying from the illness every year.
There are multiple contributing factors to the prevalence of tuberculosis in the Central African Republic, but widespread poverty certainly plays a leading role. In the country, 62% of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day. Without sufficient funds, people are unable to purchase necessary health services or adequate sanitation. Also, with a shallow tax base, the government cannot raise funds domestically to build essential healthcare infrastructures. Moreover, low domestic savings lead to low domestic investment, which stagnates the private sector. What is more detrimental is that the problems do not stop there.
Since freed from French colonialism in 1960, the Central African Republic has rarely maintained two peaceful years. In-fighting between varying political, ethnic and religious factions have marred the country in seemingly endless bouts of violence. Without any lasting stability, development has progressed slowly and limited the range of healthcare workers. The difficulties of addressing tuberculosis in the Central African Republic are severe, but there is hope.
Improvements in Tuberculosis Treatments in CAR
In the face of myriad hardships, the Central African Republic does have some promising signs of improvement in fighting tuberculosis. From 2011 to 2017, the number of patients successfully treated more than doubled. Also, the healthcare sector has cut incidences of the lethal combination of tuberculosis and HIV in half from 2011 to 2018.
An increasing amount of international aid has supported these trends. The United States has provided approximately $265 million over the last three years. Other organizations have also supported the country, including the Global Fund, that funded nearly $16 million to fight tuberculosis in 2017.
Other positive trends include the declining infant mortality rate in the Central African Republic, dropping from 104.7 in 2008 to 84.5 in 2018, per 1,000 live births. Moreover, the national percentage of children affected by stunting due to malnourishment declined from 44.4% in 2000 to 39.6% in 2012.
Furthermore, the Central African Red Cross established a nationwide reporting system using mobile phones, providing healthcare facilities and workers access to critical healthcare information and data sharing. The organization also provides ambulance services, psychological support and disease testing kits to vulnerable communities.
Tuberculosis in the Central African Republic is a serious national health concern. However, due to the growing COVID-19 pandemic, the disease is likely to receive less attention and resources. Yet, the world must not forget the gravity of the issue and the accomplishments of brave healthcare workers attempting to curb the effects of the illness.
With international aid, the Central African Republic has shown positive results in addressing healthcare issues. However, there is much work to be done as almost half the country still depends on humanitarian assistance. While the Central African Republic still has obstacles to overcome tuberculosis, there is much hope for a future without one more disease straining vulnerable populations.