DRC: The MSF field hospital helping 65,000 people fleeing conflict
Armed conflict is tormenting people living in Djugu, a territory in Ituri province in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Here, insecurity has been ongoing since 2017, however, recent community tensions have sparked a resurgence in clashes.
Between 12 and 28 November 2021, four consecutive attacks hit Tché, Drodro, Paroisse, Luko and Ivo with unprecedented levels of violence.
This new escalation in the conflict has worsened the humanitarian and security situation at camps for internally displaced people across the region, while, at the same time, increasing the vulnerability and isolation of communities.
Right now, teams from Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are working to care for people caught up in the crisis – focusing on paediatric services and improving critical access to safe water and sanitation in the camps.
Massacred with machetes
“I am left to my own destiny. With no food, my children and I have been sick since we arrived to the site,” says Suzanne, a 52-year-old farmer from Dhedja who fled to Ivo with her three children.
This is the second time she has been forced to flee, this time to the growing camp for displaced people in Rhoe.
In Ivo, she saw passersby being shot at and heard her neighbours being attacked with machetes as she managed to escape with her family.
The images of her neighbours being massacred are repeatedly replayed in her mind as she struggles to provide for her children with few prospects for the future.
Like Suzanne, more than 40,000 further people have been forced to take refuge in Rhoe camp in recent months. This is in an area that is difficult to access and where humanitarian organisations have a reduced presence due to the recurring security problems.
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“People have been facing many difficulties; the cold, the lack of shelters and latrines,” says Benjamin Safari, an MSF doctor usually based in the town of Drodro.
“Clashes between armed groups have led to the massive displacement of people, including health workers who are no longer at their patients’ bedside.
“The health needs are enormous. We have launched several activities to strengthen our response, especially for children under 15 years old.”
From clinic to field hospital
Originally, the clinic set up inside Rhoe camp was intended to refer patients who required more intensive care to the better-equipped general hospital in Drodro.
However, following the latest clashes that destroyed parts of Drodro and forced people to seek sanctuary in Rhoe, our teams have transformed the clinic into a field hospital.
They are now helping more than 65,000 people – an increase of 40,000 people in just two months.
In the past few weeks, our teams have carried out an average of more than 800 consultations per week, assisted 35 pregnant women to give birth, and treated many patients requiring mental health care.
As well as this work, our health promotion teams have carried out several health awareness sessions with people sheltering in the camp. This is to detect cases of acute malnutrition, infectious diseases with epidemic potential and provide information on support services for potential victims of sexual violence.
“Although some people are starting to return to their homes in the fragile relative calmness of the last few weeks, the needs remain high and our access to people is limited,” says Davide Occhipinti, MSF’s project coordinator in Drodro.
“We will be unable to follow up with these people if it is not safe for the healthcare staff,” he continues.
“Those who remain in Rhoe have nowhere to go. The communities fighting in the area have been neglected for too long and we will not solve their problems with bandages and medicines.
“The Congolese state and its international partners need to take responsibility for reversing the dynamics of this vicious cycle that leads to more and more deaths, injuries and displacement.”
MSF in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The second-largest country in Africa by area, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is rich in resources but plagued by conflict. It has endured decades of multiple overlapping crises and severe limitations in medical capacity.
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) runs some of its largest programmes in DRC, working in 16 of the country’s 26 provinces.