French soldiers policing western Ivory Coast
have found themselves providing healthcare
Ivory Coast has been divided between the rebel-controlled north and the government-controlled south since 2002. Between the two sides, United Nations peacekeepers patrol a buffer zone, known as the zone of confidence.

When Al Jazeera arrived in Bangolo, inside the zone, residents were starting three days of mourning for a village chief who had died from malaria.

Half of the women at the funeral will also suffer from malaria and nearly two-thirds of their children will die from it.

At a nearby clinic run by the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), we met Didier Mahan, an 18-month-old boy with a 30 per cent chance of survivng malaria.Although the clinic provides basic malaria treatment, the most serious cases face a long journey.

Factfile: Malaria

The World Health Organisation says that malaria kills 1.2 million people a year

The disease kills one person every 28 seconds

One milllion deaths a year are children under five - 900,000 of those are in sub-Saharan Africa

Malaria is estimated to cost Africa more than $12bn in lost GDP

Source: World Health Organisation

The nearest hospital is 80km away, in Man, in the UN zone of confidence. It is the only hospital in western Ivory Coast that is properly able to perform operations.

To get there these patients must travel along roads where bandits are a constant threat, but it was Didier's only chance.

Civil war

The civil war closed most of the other hospitals as staff left, fearing for their lives.

Rebels in Ivory Coast now control about 60 per cent of the country, mainly in the west and north, and the government is in charge of the rest.

UN peacekeepers keep the two sides apart and attempt to stop weapons smuggling. French soldiers are with them and also keep law and order in the area, which has no police force.

But because of the shortage of health services the French troops have found themselves providing basic medical help. They are regularly using medicines intended for their own soldiers to treat the Ivorians.

At the moment we are able to offer them treatment but it's not at the same level as you find in a clinic"

"We are in zones where we see children who have malaria. At the moment we are able to offer them treatment but it's not at the same level as you find in a clinic," Mathieu Dancourt, a French army doctor, said.

Al Jazeera visited Ivory Coast during the rainy season when malaria flourishes, it also made Didier's long journey to the hospital more dangerous.

With no central government in the area to provide healthcare, Didier received the treatment he needed only because MSF keeps the hospital running.

Leppe Lembelembe, a nurse at the Man hospital, said: "The children arrive too late and then we have to look for blood ... even if we give them treatment it is too late and then the child dies."  

Didier was one of the lucky ones, his disease was caught in time.

Source: Al Jazeera