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Democratic Republic of Congo
MSF in Democratic Republic of Congo, 2001
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Far-Reaching Programs Extend Basic Care to Millions
The health system of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is in tatters after years of civil war and government neglect. After the killing of President Laurent Kabila in January 2001, the new regime led by his son has expressed its intention to bring stability to the country. Yet insecurity still reigns in many parts of the DRC. Congolese and foreign-armed groups continue to clash inside the country's borders, often in an effort to siphon off some of the country's vast natural wealth.
Caught in the middle are the Congolese people. They are threatened by injury, displacement, and death from the ongoing civil war. They are exposed to diseases already under control or eradicated elsewhere in the world, and to frightening ailments such as sleeping sickness and the plague. Even the most basic health care services are lacking in many areas.
Humanitarian aid is hampered by insecurity. This was underscored in April 2001 when six Red Cross workers were killed in Oriental province. To protest the brutal act, MSF suspended its programs in the country for three days.
MSF works in both government- and rebel-held territory on a wide variety of medical programs.
The cornerstone of MSF's work in Congo remains district health care in several provinces. MSF aids the health structures that make up a health zone—usually a reference hospital and the clinics and health posts that feed into it, covering about 100,000 people. Activities include supplying medicine, supervising and training health staff, ensuring vaccinations and prenatal care, carrying out epidemiological surveillance, and improving water and sanitation practices and facilities.
For the last several years, MSF has assisted nearly 30 health zones scattered in Equateur, Katanga, Bas Congo, Kisangani, Bukavu, North Kivu, and South Kivu provinces. MSF began work in Bandundu province in September 2000, and at Dungu hospital in North Oriental province in March 2001.
Over the last two and half years, MSF has provided intensive (therapeutic) nutritional care in Kisangani to over 10,000 children, and supplementary care to over 17,000 children. Because the situation in that area has improved, this program will gradually be phased out. In Kitshanga, a conflict area, MSF opened a therapeutic feeding center in September 2000. In Basankusu, another scene of fighting, MSF opened a therapeutic feeding center in October 2000. As of July 2001, more than 1,500 children had been treated.
In its district health projects, MSF works against a variety of diseases, including measles, tuberculosis, cholera, and meningitis. In June 2000, a pilot HIV/AIDS project began in Bukavu, and MSF hopes to open an AIDS treatment center in Kinshasa in fall 2001.
Two sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinics in Kinshasa, the capital, see about 30,000 people a year, and STD work also takes place at an additional 22 health centers in Kinshasa and 15 in Lubumbashi, in Katanga province.
In South Equateur province, MSF runs a sleeping sickness screening and treatment program where 60,000 people were screened in 2000. MSF is looking at starting a similar program in Kinshasa.
MSF also responded to cholera epidemics in Pweto and in the region of Kabalo, both in Katanga province.
Displaced People and Refugees
There are an estimated two million Congolese displaced inside Congo, many of them outside the reach of aid workers. MSF aids 3,500 Congolese (returning from Angola, Central African Republic, and Sudan) in a camp in Sicotra, near Kinshasa, and some 4,000 Congolese refugees (returning from Zambia) in a camp in southern Katanga province. MSF also assists Angolan refugees in a camp in Kimpese, in Bas Congo province. The situation in that area has stabilized, and MSF hopes to finish work by the end of 2001.
The first MSF intervention in Congo (then Zaire) was in 1981.