MSF increases medical assistance to those affected by violence in north DR Congo

“The displaced people have been offered shelter and help by the local families”, said Emmanuel Lampaert, the head of the pool’s medical team. “Initially, this is a positive thing, as it helps new arrivals to survive. However, in the long term, this system undermines the overall standard of living for both the displaced and the host families. And so it is an even bigger group of people who need help and their needs are huge.”

In the areas of Haut-Uélé and Bas-Uélé, in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ugandan rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have committed violent attacks in response to military operations launched by the armies of Uganda, DRC and southern Sudan.

MSF is providing assistance to this abandoned population, which has been left to its fate in a highly isolated region. It has therefore decided to open two new projects. The MSF Congo Emergency Pool started providing support to a health centre and two referral hospitals in Faradje and Niangara one week ago.

MSF has been working in this region since last September, notably at the hospital in Dungu. The organisation has now decided to step up its activities in light of the increased attacks on the civilian population resulting in an influx of displaced people deprived of all medical assistance.

“In February, our teams carried out evaluation missions in different parts of the region, focusing on areas receiving little or no coverage from other humanitarian organisations, at least from a health aspect”, explained Amaury Grégoire, the pool coordinator. “The situation is critical. Health structures are either non-existent or in a deplorable state. There are few or no medicines available and those that are, are simply not affordable. We have also had to cope with a lack of medical staff; the majority have fled the violence along with the rest of the population.”

Support to hospitals and health centres

Consequently, the MSF teams are renovating the medical structures, training the medical staff still present, and providing free healthcare for both the displaced and local populations - who have been sheltering the former for several months now. The nutritional situation also gives cause for concern.

“In addition to a number of crops being destroyed by severe rains, the displaced populations, far from home, are not in a position to grow any food at all,” continued Grégoire.

In Niangara, close to 10,000 displaced people have found refuge in the town centre, and 15,000 refugees have settled in the outskirts of the town. MSF teams are providing support to the referral hospital and an outlying health centre, mainly treating malaria, acute respiratory infections and sexually transmitted infections, and seeing some 250 people a day in the hospital. Special consultations have been set up for the victims of sexual violence.

In Faradje, not far from the Sudanese border, several thousand people have taken refuge in three different sites. The MSF team has started supporting the general referral hospital, carrying out some much needed refurbishments to bring it up to standard. It has also installed water tanks, providing the hospitable with safe drinking water.

“The worst horrors”

According to the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the total number of refugees in Haut-Uélé and Bas-Uélé currently stands at around 190,000.

“These people have fled terrible violence and lived through the worst horrors”, said Grégoire. “They have lost a father, a mother, a husband, a wife or a child. Most of their villages have been burnt to the ground. They have been directly affected by the atrocities. Thousands of people are suffering from the violence they have lived through or seen: some have been kidnapped, raped, beaten up or simply killed.”

MSF has introduced special consultations for the victims of sexual violence. An MSF psychologist will join the team soon to train the local personnel on providing psychological care to victims.

It is not only the displaced who need urgent humanitarian assistance in Haut-Uélé and Bas-Uélé. Many of the resident families offering them shelter are in an increasingly precarious situation themselves.

“The displaced people have been offered shelter and help by the local families”, said Emmanuel Lampaert, the head of the pool’s medical team. “Initially, this is a positive thing, as it helps new arrivals to survive. However, in the long term, this system undermines the overall standard of living for both the displaced and the host families. And so it is an even bigger group of people who need help and their needs are huge.”