MSF interview: 'Despite the glimmer of hope kindled by the Goma peace conference, I saw how desperate the population is'
23 January 2008
What is the situation today in the Masisi area? "Thanks to the conference on peace, security and development for the Kivu provinces, which is now taking place in Goma, the fighting has dropped off. From time to time there are still skirmishes, particularly in the vicinity of Masisi. Every day, the war-wounded continue to arrive in the MSF supported hospital - both wounded soldiers and civilians victims of violence are given emergency care by the MSF surgery team." What are the consequences of conflict for the population? "Since the fighting intensified in August 2007 we have observed hundreds of thousands of displaced people. In the Masisi region alone, more than 30,000 displaced persons have found refuge in camps or in host families. Every day, the population's living conditions deteriorate: lack of food, poor hygiene, acts of violence ... today the MSF nutritional programme is treating 900 children. The population can no longer go to the fields to tend the crops. "Finally, a cholera epidemic has broken out in Masisi. We set up a treatment centre behind the hospital and are providing care for 10 to 15 patients per day. Indeed, hygiene conditions in which the people are forced to live increase the risk of water borne diseases like cholera." Are you in a position to gain access to everyone who needs help? "We have increased the capacity of Masisi hospital from 72 to 175 beds, and it is still full. The health centre supported by MSF provides from 800 to 1,000 consultations per week. We manage to supply aid to a fair number of the 4,500 people in the Masisi camp, and via the nutritional programme in several places in the region. But unfortunately, there are many we cannot reach because of insecurity or because we can't be everywhere. They are undoubtedly suffering from a terrible lack of health care and are exposed to diseases like cholera." How is the morale holding up in North Kivu? "Despite the glimmer of hope kindled by the Goma peace conference, I saw how desperate the population is... Their crops are lost. All their property is lost. People are tired of the situation. Violence, disease and running have been their daily life for years. In the last six months, I have witnessed great distress - a lack of food and health care." How can you work for a humanitarian organization in that kind of context? "It is not easy to work in such a difficult context, characterized by the presence of various armed groups where the situation can change very quickly. For that matter, MSF is the only organization that maintains a continual presence in Masisi. MSF manages to maintain this working area by continually affirming our mission as a medical and humanitarian organization, as well as our neutrality and impartiality with the various parties. "I have spent whole days on the telephone with all the parties to the conflict, without distinction. We also have to shown this impartiality in our actions: we provide care for soldiers from all armed factions, without any distinction, and we have worked on both sides of the front. This is what has given us room to work in Masisi. As a result, we can regularly bring medicines and material from Goma and stay in business."