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Improving Health, Food and Agriculture in Central Africa

The Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world. Decades of poverty and political instability mean that much of the population lives at subsistence level.

Despite this backdrop, some 25 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) projects are currently ongoing to improve the socioeconomic status of the people and to further development activities for the Central African Republic.

Subsistence agriculture is an important part of the nation's economy. Some 70% of the population live in outlying areas, and agriculture generates more than half of the nation's gross domestic product. However, the country's economic sustainability is threatened by several factors, including animal diseases such as peste des petits ruminants (PPR) and contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP). Current IAEA projects are focusing on animal disease control and improved breeding through artificial insemination. Through these projects, the Central African Republic has initiated vaccine programmes for PPR, CBPP and has begun avian flu surveillance. An insemination campaign is also scheduled in order to breed stronger cattle with higher butcher quality and increased milk production.

Livestock improvements are not the only focus of IAEA agricultural projects in the nation. Projects are also underway to improve crop production by enhancing cassava varieties and improving staple and market oriented crops. Cassava is an important drought tolerant, highly adaptable crop, making up a large percentage of the calorie intake in Central African's diets. One IAEA project has involved the collaboration of several organizations in fieldwork, laboratory work and the construction of new biotechnology and molecular biology laboratories. New varieties of cassava are being developed through mutation breeding and biotechnology that will provide greater income and economic stability to the nation.

About 90% of malaria cases occur in Africa. Treatments are available, but anti-malaria drug resistance is proving to be a problem on par with malaria itself. Ongoing IAEA projects in the Central African Republic focus on using molecular and radioisotopic techniques to evaluate anti-malaria drugs. One such project involves the selection of 4 pilot stations and training for a team of staff members in each station.

The first project's pilot station is operational and situated about 5 km from the centre of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. Local nurses, trained by the project team, are treating children with a 3-day standard malaria treatment, and following them for 28 days. The results of this study will provide information on drug-resistance and will be used to form effective government malaria treatment policies.

The anti-malaria drug resistance study has seen successes, but also faces some major problems. Accurate study results depend on the ability of families to make multiple trips to and from the pilot station. However, it is extremely difficult and expensive for families to travel to and from the health care centre throughout the duration of the study period. In an attempt to increase the accuracy of the study, the counterpart institute has been subsidising travel costs for these families out of their own meagre budget. The counterpart is working towards WHO accreditation, which will bring more financial support for the study of malaria treatment and for the families in the area.

In spite of the country's poor infrastructure and funding, there is strong support for IAEA projects in the Central African Republic because it is clear that these projects are improving national capabilities, and building partnerships that will provide support and sustain development in the years to come.


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