Fighting Overruns Town, Forcing Aid Workers to Flee and Cutting Essential Medical Services
Escalating conflict between armed groups in eastern DRC has driven health care workers from their posts in and around the town of Pinga, North Kivu Province.
DRC 2012 © MSF
GOMA/AMSTERDAM/NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 27, 2012—Escalating conflict between armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has driven health care workers from their posts in and around the town of Pinga, North Kivu Province, depriving thousands of people of access to essential medical care, the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.
Roughly two-thirds of Pinga’s population of approximately 20,000 people have fled the town. Many people are hiding in surrounding forests, due to the looting of homes and the pervasive fear gripping the populace. The violence has significantly reduced critical medical services, such as treatment for severe malaria or assistance with complicated deliveries, which can have fatal consequences. Of the 42 Congolese health workers and support staff employed by MSF in Pinga, 37 have fled. More than 20 Ministry of Health personnel have also fled.
“It’s alarming that our Congolese colleagues are compelled to join thousands of people currently displaced in the region,” said Jan-Peter Stellema, MSF’s operations manager, in Goma. “We’re very concerned about all those who have fled Pinga. It’s a strong indication of how fear has escalated and how people believe the situation will go from bad to worse. It also shows the increasing challenge to deliver medical aid to those in need.”
The unprecedented mass departure of many Congolese staff and the ongoing fighting around Pinga make it too dangerous for MSF personnel to reach health centers outside Pinga town, although they have managed to send some medical supplies to the clinics. In Pinga, MSF’s five international aid workers and their remaining five Congolese colleagues are staying in the local hospital, focusing on critical cases, including obstetric emergencies and people suffering from gunshot wounds. They are working alongside eight remaining Ministry of Health personnel. When possible, patients in critical condition are being transferred by plane to Goma, the provincial capital.
The intensifying conflict in North Kivu has caused widespread violence in many parts of the province, provoking waves of displacement and extensive humanitarian needs in an already precarious region. While myriad armed groups, complex patterns of displacement, and non-existent infrastructure make providing emergency medical care extremely difficult, MSF remains committed to its projects throughout North Kivu that care for thousands of people free-of-charge every month.
In North Kivu, MSF provides free health care in hospitals, health centers, and health posts in Rutshuru, Masisi, Mweso, Kitchanga, Walikale, Mugunga I camp, Kanyaruchinya, and Pinga. There are also a number of cholera treatment centers, mobile clinics, and emergency response activities operated by MSF.