Democratic Republic of Congo: MSF helps thousands of displaced people in the isolated Shabunda region in South Kivu
September 2, 2010
Thousands of people have been forced to flee their villages in the Shabunda area of South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), due to heavy clashes between the Congolese army (FARDC) and various armed groups. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is responding to the urgent needs of the displaced people in this isolated area by providing emergency medical care as well as treatment for cholera patients. Since the beginning of August, intense fighting has broken out in the northern part of South Kivu province. More than 20 villages have been burned and looted, and more than 25,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes, in fear of their lives, seeking refuge in the towns of Shabunda and Katshungu and in the surrounding bush. MSF teams were already at work in the south Shabunda area, where they had been providing medical care since late-June to 20,000 displaced people. When this second wave of displaced people reached the Katshungu and Shabunda regions in early August, MSF was quick to respond, setting up two health centres in Mbangayo and Lupinbi, in the town of Shabunda, and another one close to the hospital in Katshungu. “Since we opened these health centres, our teams have been seeing large numbers of patients every day. They are carrying out around 200 consultations per day in each health centre,” says Patrick Wieland, MSF’s head of operations for DRC. “Mainly we are seeing respiratory tract infections, sexually transmitted infections and worms, related to the displaced people’s bad living conditions.”
Cholera has also broken out in the town of Shabunda, due to a lack of clean water and the poor conditions in which the displaced people are living. MSF teams responded to the outbreak, which began on 17 August, by immediately setting up a cholera treatment centre in Shabunda’s hospital, where they are seeing more than 30 new patients each day. Up until 29 August, MSF teams provided medical care to 290 cholera patients. Two people have died from the disease. Most of the cholera patients are displaced people living with host families in the town, though some come from surrounding areas.
With the number of cholera cases continuing to increase steadily, MSF plans to scale up its activities, despite some major challenges. “The biggest challenge that we are facing is logistical,” says Patrick Wieland. “Shabunda is a very isolated area, and the only way to get our staff and medical supplies there is by cargo plane. Because of the cholera outbreak, we have already sent three planes with around 8,200 kg of supplies, and we plan to send one more plane carrying two tons of supplies, and probably a car too.” He adds: ”There are no cars in Shabunda, and the roads are in a very bad condition, so our teams move around on motorbikes or bicycles.”
MSF is currently the only humanitarian organisation providing emergency medical care in the Shabunda region. Mostly due to the logistical challenges, humanitarian aid is difficult to reach this isolated area. “The medical needs of the displaced people in the Shabunda area are enormous. More needs to be done to respond to this emergency,” says Patrick Wieland.
MSF provides emergency medical care throughout North and South Kivu, running hospitals, mobile clinics, vaccination campaigns and cholera programmes, and providing treatment and psychosocial care to victims of sexual violence.