Democratic Republic of Congo: Thousands have fled as violence continues in Kitchanga

Goma, 7 March 2013 – Following last week’s heavy fighting in the town of Kitchanga, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, fighting and arson continues. Thousands of the town’s inhabitants have fled in fear. The displaced are mainly women, children and the elderly: they are taking their few belongings with them and their cattle. Some of the population, who are unable to flee, are seeking refuge in makeshift camps in Kitchanga town.

“The situation in the region is extremely volatile and dire, as tension between communities escalates, with more shooting taking place this week in Kitchanga”, says Hugues Robert, head of mission for MSF in the North Kivu province.

During a second wave of attacks last Monday, more houses in Kitchanga’s town centre were damaged by fire. Many homes and other buildings have already been destroyed, including the MSF office, and shelling struck the hospital of St-Benoit last week, killing two people and wounding eight.

Within the city, thousands of the displaced lack shelter and food and are exposed to the cold, especially at night. “With the rainy season, there is an increased risk for various disease outbreaks, such as cholera and pneumonia,” says Corry Kik, MSF’s medical coordinator.

MSF Congolese national staff are working around the clock in the hospital, supporting their colleagues from the Ministry of Health. So far, more than 140 people have been wounded and there are reports of over 85 civilian deaths. Sixty-five wounded are being taken care of in Kitchanga’s health facility, while fifty-five of the most severely wounded patients have been transferred either by helicopter to Goma, after being stabilized in Kitchanga, or by road to Mweso hospital, where MSF has a surgical team. Currently MSF is the only medical humanitarian organization working in the town of 150,000 and the Kitchanga catchment area.

The international medical aid organization is scaling up its activities and boosting the team in response to the violence. Last week a surgeon, anaesthetist, nurse and emergency logistician were sent by helicopter to Kitchanga. This week, another two doctors and ten nurses will join the medical team on the ground.

In order for MSF to carry out its medical work, the organization calls upon all parties to respect the neutrality of health facilities, staff and property and to ensure safe passage for the transport of wounded patients.

MSF provides basic and specialist healthcare throughout North Kivu province. It operates health centers and mobile clinics and supports reference hospitals in Mweso, Pinga, Masisi, Rutshuru, and Kitchanga. It also operates cholera treatment centers in and around Goma. Emergency teams regularly evaluate and respond to needs in other areas in North Kivu.