Cholera and Warfare Endanger Population of Pweto, DRC

Kinshasa/Brussels, 8 December 2000 — Due to serious unrest taking place in the town of Pweto, Katanga province, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the civilian population is being exposed to major risks, posed both by the conflict itself and by the major cholera epidemic rampant in the region. Over recent days, the fighting has caused thousands of people to flee toward Zambia, and rendered the town inaccessible to the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team.

The town of Pweto is overpopulated due to the war presently raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The population of the town has tripled from an influx of civilians by the fighting. There is a desperate shortage of health care facilities. Since the beginning of the year, 150 people have died of cholera, and 1,800 cases of cholera have been recorded. The epidemic is also rampant in other parts of Katanga province, where more than 4,700 cases, and 360 deaths, have been recorded. Cases of cholera have also been recorded on the other side of the border with Zambia.

After being unable to access Pweto for many months, MSF finally obtained agreement from the Katanga authorities to set up centers for the treatment and prevention of cholera. Work began in November 2000, but was then halted due to the renewed outbreak of the conflict. Even when peace is eventually restored, the people of Pweto will not have immediate access to a health facility capable of containing the epidemic.

However, MSF continues to operate in the Kilwa and Kasenga health districts, where some 3,300 people displaced by the war are receiving care. Most are originally from northern Katanga (the towns of Pepa and Moba, in particular) and passed through Zambia before returning to the DRC.

MSF is now extremely concerned about the people of Pweto. Made vulnerable by the war and by the cholera epidemic, they do not have access to adequate health care.