DR Congo: Medical facilities caught in crossfire

Armed violence has escalated in recent weeks forcing thousands to flee and MSF to relocate some staff.

MSF responds in South Kivu as thousands of displaced people arrive

A site for displaced people in Bweremana, on the border between North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, in eastern DRC. | Democratic Republic of Congo 2023 © Igor Barbero/MSF

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams working in facilities across North Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) received huge influxes of war-wounded patients—mostly civilians—injured during waves of armed violence that has escalated in recent weeks. Civilians and medical facilities have been caught in the crossfire, and MSF has been forced to relocate some staff. MSF urgently calls on all parties to the conflict to ensure the safety of patients, medical staff, and health facilities, the protection of civilians, and unhindered access for humanitarian organizations. 

Since January 22, 2024, approximately 10,000 people fled their homes in and around Mweso, in Masisi territory, and sought refuge in Mweso general hospital.  

In January, and notably in the past two weeks, MSF teams in the Ministry of Health-run hospital have treated around 67 war-wounded people, mostly for gunshot wounds and injuries from explosions. More than 50 of these patients were civilians, including 21 children under the age of 15. MSF teams have provided psychological support and distributed temporary shelters, water filters, and soap to displaced people staying in the hospital.

With fighting intensifying in Mweso over recent days, the number of people sheltering in the hospital has reduced, with many people fleeing the area towards Kitshanga, Katsiru, Nyanzale, Pinga, Kalembe, and Kashunga. However, at least 2,500 people, including children whose parents have been killed, continue to shelter in Mweso hospital. 

“The situation is extremely concerning,” said MSF project coordinator Çaglar Tahiroglu. “The hospital is overwhelmed, with thousands of people crowded inside, trying to find some protection from the fighting. Alongside the Ministry of Health, we are doing our best to help everyone, but we do not have enough necessities, such as food.”  

Conflict spreads south 

Across the border in South Kivu province, where almost 155,000 people have been displaced since December 2022, according to the UN, recent clashes have displaced several thousand people to the border town of Bweremana and Minova in recent days. 

At the MSF-supported Minova general hospital, medical staff treated around 30 injured people between February 2 and 6, including four children, 10 women, and 12 people requiring surgery. 

The road between North Kivu’s capital, Goma, and the town of Shasha—about 16 miles to the west—is currently impassable due to the fighting, so people are referred from health centers in the southern part of North Kivu to Minova general hospital and other health facilities in South Kivu. These facilities are now overwhelmed with patients, including an increasing number of survivors of sexual violence.     

“Today, health facilities in Minova are overwhelmed and are facing shortages of essential medicines to treat common conditions such as malaria, diarrheal diseases, malnutrition, and respiratory infections,” said Rabia Ben Alí, MSF emergency coordinator in South Kivu. “Over the past four weeks we have seen the number of weekly cases of sexual violence treated at the hospital in Minova doubling.” 

Medical facilities and civilians caught in the crossfire

As fighting intensifies and approaches the cities of Mweso and Minova, the safety of civilians, medical staff, and patients is deteriorating.    

In Mweso city center, several houses were hit by explosives, killing civilians. In the week of January 22, an estimated 20 civilians were killed, including one child, and a further 41 were injured. In the last week of January, bullets from crossfire hit the MSF base and Mweso hospital, injuring one caregiver. On February 2, the area between Mweso hospital and the MSF base was hit by an explosive. 

Concerned for the safety of its teams, MSF has decided to temporarily relocate some staff from Mweso and Minova.

"We continue to provide support—mostly remote—to Mweso hospital, as well as to nine health centers in the area,” said Tahiroglu. “MSF staff will return as soon as the security situation allows. However, we cannot provide medical care under these conditions where health care facilities are not protected and medical staff are caught in the crossfire.”

Since March 2022, the upsurge in armed clashes in North Kivu province, linked to the resurgence of the M23 movement, has forced more than one million people from their homes and caused a humanitarian disaster in a province already devastated by more than 30 years of armed conflict and mass displacement.

In Mweso health zone in Masisi territory, North Kivu province, MSF teams have been providing medical care and humanitarian aid to people affected by the violence, including some 30,000 people temporarily displaced in February 2023. In Masisi health zone, MSF teams continue to support Masisi general hospital and five health centers, despite the difficulty of bringing in supplies with roads cut off due to the fighting. MSF launched a new emergency response in December 2023 in nine sites where displaced people had settled.