World Health Day

Dr Barthélemy Bagaza: "As a doctor, I can't refuse a patient."

Heroes for health in the Central African Republic

Dr. Bagaza graduated 18 months ago and was immediately posted in the Damara community health centre. He is the only qualified physician for a population of 29 000.

Dr Barthélemy Bagaza

"It's not easy; we just get no rest. We’re here all the time; I spend every night here at the hospital." And so do many of his team.

Damara is the first major city on the road heading north from Bangui, 75 km away. It was one of the worst hit towns during the recent conflict. HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB are widespread, and maternal and infant mortality rates are high, even for the CAR.

This young doctor and his team of 13 nurses and 2 midwives are caring for all the victims. On top of that, many local people come to seek safety and shelter in the health centre at night.

The health centre was ransacked during the conflict. "Everything was taken – the solar panels – the people took everything, everything! When we came here there was almost nothing. Fortunately Professor Nali, the outgoing Minister, helped us to find some materials." Now, things are gradually improving.

The latest positive sign: President Bozizé recently donated an ambulance to Damara and UNICEF donated three to the CAR. Professor Nali says 70 are needed across the country as most were looted, stolen or destroyed in 2001–2003.

There still is room for improvement at Damara: "In addition [to needing medico-surgical materials], we've got a problem with the building. We’ve got women who have given birth in the same hospital ward as those suffering from gynaecological diseases, and this just isn’t on!"

Thanks to his small, yet competent staff, Dr Bagaza is saving lives. He just wants the means to save more.

Marie-Thérèse, 41, raped and thrown out with her seven children

When ex-President Patassé's Congolese troops raided Damara in 2003, Marie-Thérèse's husband, a retired civil servant, had gone to Bangui to try to collect his pension.


"When they came, 12 of them broke in and ransacked everything. They gang-raped me, forcing the children to watch at gunpoint. I passed out."

When she came to, her husband threw her and the children out of the house because she says he told her she was now "the soldiers' whore" and the children were "impure". The same thing happened to thousands of women and children in and around Damara.

Marie-Thérèse now tries to make ends meet by making manioc alcohol. "I'm selling this liquor, but how much can I get out of this? We are stigmatized and despised by the population."

Marie-Thérèse's seven children have nothing to wear and cannot attend school for fear of being shunned. Marie-Thérèse's experience is similar to that of thousands of others. But she felt duty-bound to try to earn a living and speak out, whereas most victims dare not show themselves.

Dr Bagaza’s most cherished wish: a microscope and some reagents to carry out HIV tests at Damara's community health centre.