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Democratic Republic of Congo
MSF in Democratic Republic of Congo, 2006/2007
Field Staff: 3,084
Reason for Intervention:
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The peace process in Democratic Republic of Congo culminated in November 2006 with the election of Joseph Kabila as president. Although a degree of political stability has begun to seep into this vast nation, the country is left in pieces after 50 years of bloodshed and the scale of health needs is considerable. The great majority of the population have limited or no access to healthcare, epidemics break out with regularity and violence continues to have a devastating impact on people’s lives, particularly in the east of the country.
Several years after full-scale war officially ended, MSF retains more than 3,000 staff on the ground, and across DRC, MSF continues to run the Congo Emergency Pool. With base stations in Lubumbashi, Kisangani and Kinshasa, teams can go almost anywhere and respond to approximately ten medical alerts every month.
As stability allows more development-oriented organizations to take root, however, MSF has been able to scale-down some of its activities. It was in 2002 that MSF first intervened in Ankoro, in the southeastern province of Katanga, on what was then the frontline. The aim was to bring medical care to people suffering from violence and epidemics. Following an aerial bombardment of the town, MSF renovated the hospital into a functioning reference center. In June 2007, conditions were finally judged acceptable enough for MSF to withdraw.
Whilst the upsurge in fighting that took place between rebels and government soldiers in late 2005 and early 2006 has all but ceased, MSF continues to work in the Katanga region. Major healthcare projects still running include Kilwa, Shamwana, Dubie and Pweto to the east of the region. The destitution of the area was epitomized by a string of epidemics over 2006/2007. In August 2006, MSF opened two cholera treatment centres and 14 treatment units in response to rampant cholera in Kikondja.
Between January and May of 2007, MSF intervened for both cholera and measles in Kabundo, Dianga and vaccinated 120,000 children around Bukama and 37,000 in Nyunzu after a measles outbreak in May and June. In June MSF also started treating children with measles in Mukanga and in Kasenga.
Earlier, in January 2007, a meningitis epidemic was confirmed in Adi health zone, in the east of DRC. Within seven days of beginning the campaign, a 52-person team had vaccinated everyone from two to 30 years of age, covering 18 health areas and 80,000 residents.
It is not just short-lived epidemics that are a serious threat to health. AIDS continues to spread, and MSF continues to provide comprehensive care in the capital city, Kinshasa, as well as Kilwa in Katanga, Bukavu and Dungu in the east of the country. In July 2007, over 3,000 people were receiving anti-retroviral treatment.
Other diseases, such as the fatal parasitic disease “sleeping sickness”, or Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT), remain killers. In June 2007, MSF opened a new program to combat HAT in heavily affected areas at the extreme north of the country, the Haut Uélé and Bas Uélé districts of Province Orientale. Since 2004, MSF has been running a program against HAT in Isangi and managed to significantly decrease the number of cases of sleeping sickness in the area, allowing the program to close in 2007.
In November 2006, MSF launched a new project in Lubutu, located in the North Maniema Province, where extremely high mortality rates were found during a survey conducted in late 2005. This region is indirectly affected by conflict and population displacement in the east and remains highly isolated.
In the provinces of North and South Kivu in the east of the DRC, there remains a steady flow of violence. In 2006, MSF opened three new emergency programs in Linzo, Kanyabayonga and Nyanzale, and continued to work in the reference hospitals of Kayna and Rutshuru, providing surgical and secondary care and treating victims of sexual violence. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, MSF teams in 2006 carried out 12,200 emergency hospital admissions, 2,971 surgical interventions and treated more than 3,500 victims of sexual violence. In Rutshuru hospital MSF surgeons conducted approximately 120 operations per month, seven percent linked directly to violence, such as bullet wounds and the physical effects of torture.
In Bunia, the provincial capital of Ituri, MSF continues to work in the Bon Marché hospital. Seven wards were built in 2006 to increase capacity and allow patients to receive treatment in proper buildings rather than tents. The aim of the Bon Marché is to focus on emergencies and the care of children aged less than five years – more than 24,000 were seen in 2006. Nearly 12,000 patients were admitted to the hospital and approximately 10,000 surgical interventions were performed.
Violence is a major problem in this area and MSF is offering integrated medical and psychological care. At this location alone, MSF in 2006 treated 2,041 patients who were victims of sexual violence.
MSF has worked in Democratic Republic of Congo since 1981.