December 6, 2004
Kinshasa, December 6, 2004 - Emergency teams from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have started assisting 9,000 displaced people in Katanga Province's Mitwaba region in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The displaced fled villages during violence which began in late 2003 and many have been living without adequate shelter and food for months, unable to return home due to persistent insecurity.
“It is hard to say how many people have been forced to leave their villages due to continuing violence between the Congolese army and local militia groups (the Mai Mai), because many are still hiding in the forest,” explained MSF head of mission Alain Decoux. “People are caught in the cross fire. Both sides prey on the villagers for their survival, with even the Congolese army being, at best, paid irregularly and insufficiently. When a village is suspected of backing the other side, it is often razed to the ground and the people forced to flee into the forest.”
Since November 8, emergency teams have set up four health centers in and around Mitwaba, providing 1,554 consultations in the first week alone. Currently, each center is receiving between 60 and 120 patients a day. Pathologies treated are those common among people forced to live in the wild, such as bloody diarrhoea, malaria and acute respiratory infections.
The high levels of malnutrition compound the problems people face. On the day the health center in Mitwaba opened, 45 out of 54 patients were found to be malnourished.
“Being forced to flee means that people can't tend to their crops. And even if cultivation was possible, harvests are pillaged by the numerous armed forces,” Decoux explained. “It has reached the point that people prefer to eat seeds rather than risk cultivating their fields.”.
Symptomatic of the void in healthcare in the DRC, MSF is also seeing villagers coming for consultations. “For many of the local people, this is the first time they have ever received any kind of healthcare,” continued Decoux. “The health zone covers over 80 000 people, but there are virtually no functioning medical facilities. Here, when you talk about a health facility, what you have is a building with a nurse but no drugs at all.”
The nearest hospital is located in Sampwe, which is in another health zone 75 miles from Mitwaba. “But given the impossibility of travel due to the lack of roads and transport, this may as well be on the other side of the planet,” said Decoux. “For example, to hire a vehicle for a day costs 25,000 Congolese Francs (US$55), equivalent to a yearly wage for much of the population. And this doesn't even include the gasoline.”
Even if a patient is able to make it to the hospital, the price of treatment is prohibitive. As Monga Kaseya, co-ordinator of a local NGO explained, “surgery costs up to 50,000 Congolese Francs (US$110), and this represents a fortune for people here.”
As a result, very few people make it to hospital and have no other choice but to die in their villages.
“The needs in this region are immense,” Decoux said. “Through the MSF health centers, we are barely scratching the surface. The displaced arrive in villages which are already barely able to support an impoverished population. Thousands may still be hiding in the forest too scared to enter villages and the violence continues.”
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)