May 22, 2024

The violent invasion in Ituri province, forces patients to flee medical facilities

The violent invasion in Ituri province, forces patients to flee medical facilities

Andre Jean Marie in DR Congo

The ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has resulted in approximately 700,000 individuals being displaced from their residences in Djugu, located in the province of Ituri. In the past, attempts at peace processes have failed, and the situation has worsened since the beginning of the year. As of now, more than 150,000 individuals have been forced to leave their homes exclusively in 2023.

The circumstances have significantly affected individuals’ ability to receive medical and psychological support. When violence becomes imminent, both patients and medical personnel from healthcare facilities are compelled to flee, even if it disrupts ongoing treatment. In certain regions, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams are the sole providers of medical assistance for displaced individuals.

For instance, Drodro hospital, which has a capacity of 100 beds, quickly evacuated all its patients within half an hour upon hearing gunshots approximately one mile from the facility. A number of patients and their caretakers managed to evacuate the area in time, avoiding the increasing danger on the roads.

However, there were those who were unable to make it in time and were forced to retreat. A driver of an ambulance transported them back to the hospital, where they crowded together in one room for safety. They turned off the generator in order to listen for any approaching gunshots, leaving behind only the sound of children’s tears. The medical facilities in the Drodro health zone have been abandoned for the third time this year due to conflicts.

“Imagine that people have been living through this conflict for years, over several generations, with repeated displacements and few prospects for the future,” said Grâce Longa Mugisa, MSF mental health advisor. “They are constantly reminded of the massacres of their neighbors and family members. It’s difficult to think logically.”

“When patients flee, what can we do?” said Dr. Kelly Tsambou, MSF’s head of medical activities in the Drodro health zone. “Every patient should be able to feel safe in medical facilities. Elsewhere, hospitals are often used by the civilian population as a place of refuge during conflicts, but that’s not the case here.”

A continuous pattern of trauma and violence

Joécie recounted being on the hospital bed with her baby when fellow mothers approached them, advising that they needed to evacuate due to gunshots. Joécie’s 17-month-old son, Salomon, is currently undergoing treatment for severe malnutrition and anemia at the hospital. People were frantically moving about in a state of distress. I covered my infant with a cozy fabric and departed. However, due to the state of panic, I neglected to remember his medical documents.

Joécie had to go back to the hospital as her son’s condition deteriorated. The relentless violence and the potential for further increase have inflicted lasting emotional wounds on the residents in this region. A significant number of individuals hold concerns about going to medical establishments due to perceiving them as possible targets and inherently hazardous. There are those who would only pursue medical attention in dire and urgent situations.

The lack of security significantly impedes the ability to obtain medical treatment.

Currently, only half of the health facilities in the Drodro health zone in Ituri province are operational, specifically, eight out of sixteen. MSF is persisting in delivering assistance according to the specific requirements of each population. Nevertheless, the persistence of long-term violence and the constant displacement of people are causing serious disruptions to medical operations. MSF has increased its resources at multiple healthcare facilities to assist the Ministry of Health in delivering medical treatment to a larger number of individuals.

One example is when MSF established a mobile clinic in Rho camp to offer essential healthcare services for displaced individuals and to direct patients in need of specialized care to Drodro hospital. However, the population of the camp has almost doubled since the start of the year, currently standing at around 70,000 individuals. In order to provide for the needs of the community, MSF teams enhanced the clinic and converted it into a state-of-the-art health post to increase its capabilities.

MSF teams are currently restoring the health center at Blukwa’Mbi, where numerous displaced individuals are residing with local families. The aim is to upgrade it into a specialized medical facility capable of offering advanced healthcare services to patients.

According to Soumana Ayouba Maiga, MSF project coordinator, the establishment of a solar-powered operating theater will facilitate the performance of medical procedures like cesarean sections by healthcare teams. “We aim to offer individuals who are unable to reach the Drodro hospital with enhanced access to specialized medical attention. ”

The urgent and vast demands of humanity require an increased and enlarged effort in response.

Micheline, who is referred to as the ‘leader of the moms’ in her community due to providing shelter to 10 individuals escaping violence, expressed her greatest concern about the availability of food at present. Many individuals, including children, do not consume food on a daily basis. Currently, it is not the appropriate season for harvesting, therefore there is currently nothing available. “There is a lack of easily accessible drinking water. ”

Apart from healthcare, the 1.7 million displaced individuals in Ituri province urgently require provisions of food, safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, shelter, and education. Unfortunately, these needs are largely overlooked and receive limited attention from both the political and international spheres. The ongoing sense of uncertainty hinders individuals from cultivating their crops, resulting in a significant decline in their primary source of financial sustenance within the region. A significant number of individuals residing in the vicinity believe that they have been left behind.

MSF and the Ministry of Health in DRC work together to deliver essential medical services in Drodro general hospital, along with two health centers, two advanced health posts, and six community health sites located in the Drodro health zone.

The teams from MSF offer healthcare services with a focus on child health, such as treatment for malnourishment, malaria, and respiratory ailments. They also provide support for mental health, family planning, and assist survivors of sexual violence. Starting from the start of 2023, the healthcare teams from MSF have granted 25,630 medical consultations and 435 mental health sessions in the Drodro health zone. Additionally, they have taken care of 850 children affected by malnutrition and offered support to 165 individuals who have experienced sexual violence.