MSF opens 11 health posts near DRC cease-fire line

"There are a lot of aid organisations in the DRC. The problem is that they are all in the big cities, such as Goma. Here in the field, deep in the bush where the needs are most pressing, MSF is the only one to provide medical care" - MSF staff member in DRC.

MSF is sending more than 25 additional international staff to the provinces of Equator, Oriental, Maniema and Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to open eleven new bases in health zones close to the ceasefire line. Together with Congolese staff, they will bring basic and emergency health care to isolated populations, who are at risk from malaria, diarrhoea, respiratory infections, sexually transmittable illnesses and other infectious diseases.

A new MSF base is already up and running in the Yahuma region in Lokutu health zone, Oriental Province. Once a month the team visits the isolated and socially abandoned people in the area.

Living skeletons

"Travelling by motorcycle through the deep jungle of DRC is a fantastic experience, but it also confronts you with a very sad and tragic situation," said Frida Lagerholm, an MSF press officer who visited the region recently.

"The population is clearly suffering as a consequence of war. The condition of some of the people is shocking; lack of food and healthcare continues to cause misery and loss of life. Previous MSF surveys in the health zones have indicated that one in three children dies before the age of five. In some villages the people have to survive in the most basic conditions. We saw extremely fragile people, locally called the 'living skeletons'".

It takes nine days on motorbike for the MSF team to do the monthly trip along the southern axis. The Yahuma region in the DRC is covered with dense rainforest. There are no major roads or waterways; the area is so isolated that many children have never seen a white person before.

"There are a lot of aid organisations in the DRC. The problem is that they are all in the big cities, such as Goma," said Berengere Leurquin, Field Coordinator for the Yahuma project. "Here in the field, deep in the bush where the needs are most pressing, MSF is the only one to provide medical care".

The presence of the military is a heavy burden on the already poor people, who have to give food to the army and are used as forced labour.

"Last week I walked all the way to Lokutu to pick up medicine and some other merchandise. I carried the material for more than 200 kilometres but then I had to leave almost all of it at one of the military posts. I came back with basically nothing," said Henri Sambo, a local nurse.

Just outside the village of Ikela is a little hut. It is the home of 14-year-old Mono. She lives here alone after being abandoned by her family and the other villagers. She has epilepsy and people here believe that it is a contagious disease. The affected person is therefore abandoned by family and community, left alone with only minimal support.

During one of her epileptic attacks Mono was sleeping near the fire and burned her face badly.

"I live here all by myself," she said. "Nobody comes and visits me. My father told me that he is not afraid of me but I cannot stay with my sisters and brothers, because the rest of the people in our village would ban the whole family as they think I can make them sick as well".

One of the tasks of the MSF teams is to provide the local population with proper information.

"The health care we bring is crucial for many people in this region," says Leurquin. "And even if we cannot treat everybody, at least we bring some hope to the villages. Just the fact that we are here and that they are not forgotten, already means a lot to these people. To see them smile and listen to their 'tom-toms' (drums) when we arrive, I get a good night sleep out of it. The satisfaction of helping these people is worth the effort to reach them".