Pierre was born in the Central African Republic in 2015. He couldn’t know it, but statistically he had just started life in the second worst country in the world to be a newborn.

An untold emergency

While it doesn’t often make the headlines in Australia, the Central African Republic (CAR) is one of our planet’s poorest and most under-developed nations. For the past five years it’s been torn apart by conflict and bloodshed.   
 
Armed groups are fighting over land rich in diamonds, gold and uranium. More often than not, the militia target civilians rather than each other. They attack health and education facilities, mosques and churches, as well as sites where displaced people have taken shelter.
© UNICEF/UN0239517/Gilbertson VII Photo

Now after months of research, a UNICEF report has found that life is even harsher and more dangerous for the children of CAR, than at the peak of the crisis five years ago.
 
Beating the odds
For children in the CAR like Pierre, the odds have and will continue to be stacked against them:
 
  • One out every 24 babies do not survive the first 28 days. 
  • One in four children is either displaced or a refugee.
  • Only two in three children have the opportunity to finish primary school.
  • Almost half the population do not have access to clean water.
  • And in the year to come, over 43,000 children under five-years-old will be at risk of death due to severe acute malnutrition.
© UNICEF/UN0248767/Le Du

Pierre’s story
Pierre lives with his father, Prosper, and his sister and grandmother in a little village outside Bangui, the CAR’s capital.
 
Their lives have been ripped apart by the ongoing conflict, and now, every day is a struggle to find enough food to eat. 
 
Earlier this year Pierre’s weight began to drop. By July, he was falling sick repeatedly, refusing to eat and had become frighteningly emaciated. At three-and-a-half years old, he weighed just 9kgs and had severe diarrhoea.
 
Fearing little Pierre was about to die, Prosper walked the 12km to the nearest health facility carrying a starving Pierre in his arms. 

“When I was walking I was praying on the way, I didn’t know if I was going to get to the hospital with Pierre alive. Even if I made it I didn’t know if he would make it,” says Prosper.
 
Once they entered the health centre, which receives support from UNICEF, doctors rushed to stabilise Pierre.
 
"When we got to the health centre,
everyone ran to him. I was not sure we
were going to take him home alive.
"
 
© UNICEF/Le Du

The next day there was no sign that Pierre was getting better. The doctors at the health centre referred him to the paediatric hospital for intensive care treatment. 

The Bangui Paediatric Hospital is a lifeline for children suffering from the most severe cases of malnutrition. It is the only paediatric hospital in the whole of the CAR. Its malnutrition stabilisation wards are overwhelmed - every bed is full, many with two children, all of them with weak and fragile child in need of lifesaving care. 

After 10 days of painstaking around-the-clock care at the hospital, Pierre started to get stronger. He was able to smile again and was eating up supplies of Plumpy'nut®, the nutrient-heavy fortified peanut paste provided by UNICEF, vital for a child’s recovery from malnutrition. 

Finally, it was time for Prosper to take little Pierre home to see his sister and grandmother. 
 
© UNICEF/UN0248779/Le Du

For the next few weeks Pierre received regular follow up health checks and a supply of Plumpy'nut® to help him put on weight. He still clings to his father, but he smiles again and laughs when he is placed in the bucket that he’s weighed in at the health centre. 
The worry that has gripped Prosper for the last month has begun to fade. He can begin to hope for a future for little Pierre. “I want to send Pierre to school, I want to find work so I can send him to school. That would give me pleasure. I am very happy to see him like other children.”

Conditions for children in the CAR are desperate. So far, Pierre has beaten the odds. But the situation for many children is getting worse every day. UNICEF is working to reach children in desperate need, often in very dangerous circumstances.

This work includes providing lifesaving therapeutic food and medicine to treat tens of thousands of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, setting up temporary learning and protection spaces, and helping children who have been released from armed groups, or subjected to sexual violence, to recover and reintegrate into the community.
 
Pierre’s recovery from malnutrition – these two photos were taken a month apart. © UNICEF/Le Du

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