January 20, 2008

Some populations in need remain out of reach due to insecurity



An MSF team member examines a child during a mobile clinic in Bukama, North Kivu. Democratic Republic of Congo 2007 © François Dumont /MSF

“We know that further north, people are dying of diseases that are easily treatable, but we have not been able to reach them for several weeks. We first managed to return only a few days ago, and we have to constantly re-evaluate security conditions. These people are regularly trapped in a conflict that has lasted for years and to which they cannot see an end.”

The sun beats down on a corrugated iron shelter that serves as Bukama health center’s waiting room. It is December 2007, a Friday, and therefore market day. The health center, where Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) conducts regular clinics, is crowded. “Just a few days ago, this health center was pillaged by armed men; there was almost nobody left here,” says MSF nurse Angelina Palmer. “Thanks to the bravery of Congolese health staff who agreed to come back to work here, we have been able to treat a huge number of patients.”

Bukama is a small community in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Today, the MSF medical team will carry out around a hundred consultations there, only a few kilometers from the blurred front line where various armed groups are maneuvering.

Among the patients are children, women, and elders. Here, men of fighting age are often demanded at the front. Over the last few months in North Kivu, the resumption of hostilities has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee. Violence, extortion, malnutrition, and outbreaks of disease: the people that MSF is here to help, both local and displaced, are becoming increasingly at risk with each passing day.

In the course of regular visits to remote clinics and in the St. Benoit Hospital in Kitchanga where MSF is supporting the regular staff, 3,300 patients were treated in December 2007, mainly for malaria, diarrhea, and respiratory infections. The team has treated 47 children suffering from acute malnutrition, while measles cases remain frequent. This week in Kitchanga, MSF will start providing surgical care.


A mother feeds her child a ready-to-use therapeutic food used to treat malnourishment at an MSF clinic in Kitchanga, North Kivu. Democratic Republic of Congo 2007 © François Dumont /MSF

Since March 2007, MSF has been providing a regular mobile clinic in four communities in the Mweso health zone—Kashuga, Kalembe, and Jardin Théicole de Ngeri, as well as Bukama. However, insecurity caused by the presence of various armed groups in this area has meant that over the past few weeks MSF has only been able to go to Bukama. The other areas, located further north, have remained out of reach.

During the second week of January, thanks to discussions with the various parties to the conflict, MSF was able to return to the Kashuga and Kalembe health centers to re-supply with drugs. Unfortunately, and for the second time in a few months, Kashuga health center had been pillaged.

“Our mobile clinics are the only way for many people to receive medical care,” says Angelina Palmer. “We know that further north, people are dying of diseases that are easily treatable, but we have not been able to reach them for several weeks. We first managed to return only a few days ago, and we have to constantly re-evaluate security conditions. These people are regularly trapped in a conflict that has lasted for years and to which they cannot see an end.”

In North Kivu, MSF runs medical and humanitarian programs on both side of the front line, in the districts of Goma, Rutshuru, Nyanzale, Masisi, Kitchanga, Mweso, and Kilolirwe. MSF has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 1981.

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