MSF team in Shabunda, DRC, remains suspended due to local violence

Fiona Lloyd-DaviesWomen help make the hot 'soup', that is believed to have healing properties. The MSF staff working in Shabunda are providing free medical care for rape survivors, working closely together with a local women s association to spread the word about this free treatment and encourage women to seek help.

MSF recently reported the evacuation of its teams in Shabunda, DRC due to increased violence in the area between the rebel 'Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie' (RCD) party and the Congolese Mai Mai militias. The MSF team was evacuated by plane on April 13th, 2002. 

The security situation has not improved since then, with recurrent shooting in the area and three other Mai Mai attacks on Shabunda itself. Given the current developments, MSF fears it will be unable to resume humanitarian assistance for some weeks to come to a population that is, once more, the first victim in a conflict that a constant of the past seven years.

Food situation

MSF is very concerned about the food situation in and around Shabunda. A nutritional survey, conducted by Action Contre la Faim USA in February 2002, showed a global malnutrition rate of more than 20% in the area. The levels of malnutrition can only get worst now that the fields are definitively inaccessible and flows of displaced persons are seeking refuge in town.

Health care

Thanks to the presence of the Xavierian Fathers on the ground, MSF continues to provide drugs to three health centres around Shabunda town. However, if the team is not able to resume activities, the health centres will run out of medicines and the population will be denied health care.

Violence

MSF is also worried about the indiscriminate violence the population has been subjected to for years - and which continues today. It includes rape, abduction, torture and killing of the civilian population.

Patient accounts

Below are accounts from our patients, collected by the MSF team between November 2001 and March 2002, illustrating the humanitarian consequences of the war in Shabunda health zone.

Basic Health Care Shabunda

Launched in September 2001, after one and a half years of absence due to the security situation

Project purpose: Improve access to medical care and humanitarian assistance for the population in five health areas in Shabunda health zone

Start: September 2001

Target group: Population of five health areas in and around Shabunda town (at least 100,000 people, out of the 500,000 people of Shabunda health zone)

Activities: Support for five basic health centres in areas accessible : drugs, training, supervision, surveillance; monitoring and documenting of humanitarian situation and distribution to relevant actors. MSF was also about to start supporting two wards in Shabunda hospital for referral cases.

Human Resources: The expat team consists of four persons : two medical persons (a medical doctor and a nurse), one logistician and the Project Coordinator. The National Staff team consists of 17 persons (two nurses, one logistician, two bike-drivers, one administrator, nine guards and two domestics).

Baby, three months old, suffering from third-degree burns on the head and the body (March 2002). This account comes from the child's mother. Two months ago, she and her baby left their village because of the insecurity and fled to the forest - they sought shelter in a hut made of leaves and branches. One day, the Mai Mai attacked them, looting their goods and food. At the time, the baby was sleeping in the house and the mother was so scared that she fled, leaving her baby behind. When she came back, the pile of clothes next to the incandescent lamp was on fire and the baby's skull suffered third-degree burns. The baby also lost a finger because of the fire.

Woman, 39 years old, raped by the Mai Mai (November 2001) This woman was caught by the Mai Mai as she was walking in the forest with her husband and her children in August 1999. First, they beat her husband then they raped her in front of her seven children. They violated her daughters and sexually mistreated her sons. The Mai Mai dragged her along 65 km., raping her anywhere and anytime. She says she was raped by more than a hundred men during the time she was held. Two of her daughters were taken by the Mai Mai and she never saw them again. Nor does she know what has happened to her husband or her other two sons. She was liberated by Congolese soldiers in February 2001 and now lives in Shabunda with her older sister. She still has open wounds in her vagina and feels pain in the neck and the hips.

Father with six year old daughter, suffering from malnutrition (March 2002) The little girl suffers from malnutrition. According to her father, she has lost weight dramatically, vomits after eating and has swelling in her feet. Her mother has been taken by the Mai Mai in May 2001, while she was working in the fields with their oldest son and their baby. The husband has no idea what has happened to them. He has remained alone with his three other children in Shabunda. Unfortunately, one of them has died since of measles. Now that his little girl is also sick, he is very afraid that he will lose her as well. The father says it is very difficult to find food to eat and it is dangerous to go to the fields.

Man, 55 years old, suffering from elephantiasis. (March 2002) This man is 55 years old and suffers from elephantiasis. He is from a village north of Shabunda where recent Mai Mai attacks took place. A few months ago, there was an alert in the village of a Mai Mai were going to attack and he fled into the bush with his family. He lived there for two months in a hut made of leaves. However, the situation was still not secure in the forest. When he was told the military were in Shabunda, he decided to move there. He lives with his family, some four kms away from Shabunda. He says his legs started to swell when he fled to the forest. Now they are enormous and terribly heavy - as if he had weights at the end of each leg. Unfortunately, it is too late now to give him the available treatment and the danger now is that he will become blind if he is too big.

Woman, 53 years old, shot in the thigh during a Mai Mai attack. (December 2001) After having been displaced for a long time,she moved to where her family lives to look for some food to eat. She arrived on a Saturday. On the Sunday, the Mai Mai attacked the village. To protect themselves, she and four other members of her family hid under the bed but one of the Mai Mai appeared at the gate and demanded that the people leave the house quickly. The boys came out first. When she came out from under the bed, she was shot above the knee. She had the strength to jump out of the window and to run to the bush. It was only then that she discovered she was wounded and could not move anymore. Her husband carried her to safety. She was sutured without any anaesthestic or drugs. Her husband then decided to carry her to Shabunda. There she was given penicillin and was finally given proper treatment at Shabunda hospital.

Woman, widow, raped by the Mai Mai. (November 2001) In June 2000, 30 Mai Mai entered her house and looked for goods to steal. She said she had nothing, so they started beating herShe and her husband were accused of being allied to the Tutsis. They beat her husband to death. They then cut off her husband's ear and told her to eat it. She refused and was raped multiple times. More than a year later she still suffers physically from the rape. She has been rejected by her family. Her children are malnourished and are currently being treated in the feeding centre.