DRC: Thousands Flee Violence in Pinga, North Kivu

Thousands of people have fled the town of Pinga in recent days amid a new wave of armed conflict in the DRC's North Kivu Province.

DRC 2013 © MSF

The sign outside the health center in Pinga, where armed conflict has made provision of care difficult.

GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO/NEW YORK, MAY 2, 2013—Thousands of people have fled the town of Pinga in recent days amid a new wave of armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)'s North Kivu Province, making it very difficult to ensure that they receive essential medical care, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

Many residents fled to the surrounding forests after attacks began on April 28, while others sought refuge at a local hospital, only to be forced out by armed men. Eleven of MSF's Congolese staff members are missing. Houses have been burned and looted, and a combatant was decapitated, further increasing the level of panic and alarm in town.

"Civilians are routinely exposed to this violence—this is the eighth time Pinga has changed hands since 2012," said Jan Peter Stellema, MSF's operations manager in Goma. "A number of patients had to be transferred for emergency surgery to Goma, among them a 70-year-old woman shot in the arm."

While over the past year MSF has been running a large clinic in Pinga and supporting the town hospital and other clinics in the area, frequent violence has made it extremely challenging for MSF to negotiate access with multiple armed actors. Health centers have been looted and medical equipment destroyed.

"Providing health care is proving a challenge when medical facilities are not respected, staff are missing, people have fled the area and those who remain fear being subjected to harsh treatment, illegal taxation, forced recruitment or worse," Stellema said.

Despite challenging conditions, MSF continues to provide high quality medical care in four reference hospitals, 12 health centers and four health posts in North Kivu province, and four reference hospitals, 19 health centers and five health posts in South Kivu. MSF also operates several cholera treatment centers, weekly mobile clinics, and emergency response activities.