KINSHASA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO—More aid is urgently needed in rural areas of Kasai province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as people come out of hiding a year after conflict flared in the region, according to the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Alarming levels of malnutrition among young children indicate the severity of this neglected crisis.
MSF teams treated almost 1,000 children under 5 years old for severe acute malnutrition between June and September in Tshikapa, the capital of Kasai province, and in the surrounding rural areas. In some towns and villages where people had returned to their homes after hiding for months in the surrounding forests, 10 percent of young children suffered severe acute malnutrition, which is a humanitarian emergency.
"The Kasai crisis has been completely neglected," said Gabriel Sanchez, MSF operational manager. "People returning to their villages and towns have been left on their own to rebuild destroyed homes and start cultivating crops again, often without proper tools and with their traditional sources of income severely affected."
In the wake of the violence, many local health centers are barely functioning. "Half of the health centers we visited over the past three months had been looted, burnt, or destroyed," said Sanchez. "They are slowly resuming activities, but they are desperately short of skilled health staff, medicines and essential equipment."
While humanitarian aid has reached the main towns of Tshikapa and Kananga, almost no assistance has arrived elsewhere in the region.
MSF mobile medical teams are traveling to villages across Kasai province to treat people in need of medical care, particularly malnourished children, and resupply local health centers with medicines and equipment. MSF is also supporting a hospital and three health centers in Tshikapa, and has helped set up 10 outpatient therapeutic feeding centers in the surrounding rural area.
"There are still vulnerable communities in the main towns, particularly displaced people who are not yet ready to go back to their villages, and need health care, shelter, food, and support to help them cope with the traumatic experiences they have lived through," said Sanchez. "But the most urgent need is for other aid organizations to deploy in rural areas across Kasai. The response has been far too slow and insignificant for a crisis of this magnitude."
Between June and September, MSF teams in Kasai province provided more than 5,000 pediatric consultations, carried out more than 200 surgeries, treated 155 people for violence-related injuries and provided care for 30 survivors of sexual violence.
In the neighboring Kasai Central province, MSF has been supporting Kananga Provincial Hospital since April, and in June MSF started assisting victims of sexual violence.