11 February 2008Up to one million people in the Central African Republic (CAR) are at risk from a meningitis epidemic sweeping across the northwest of their country, and overwhelmed local health authorities do not have enough vaccine stocks to meet demands, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned today. An outbreak was declared after numerous deaths were reported in the districts of Ouham, Ouham Pendé and Nana-Grebizi in the first five weeks of this year, OCHA said in a press statement, and UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the country’s Government are working together to try to combat the epidemic.Following a request from the World Health Organization (WHO), some $100,000 has been released from the UN’s Emergency Response Fund (ERF) for the CAR so that enough vaccines can be bought to protect about 80,000 people.John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that “protecting the people in the north of the Central African Republic will prevent meningitis from spreading to the rest of the country and into neighbouring Chad.”Toby Lanzer, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, said the ERF injection has ensured that aid workers can immediately help many of those who need vaccines.“We count on donors to continue supporting our efforts so that more lives can be saved,” he said.The meningitis epidemic is the latest crisis to hit the CAR, which has been buffeted by deadly fighting between Government forces and armed rebels and also by widespread bandit attacks against civilians. Life expectancy in the impoverished, landlocked nation stands at just 43.

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