DAKAR (AlertNet) – Many civilians fleeing renewed fighting in eastern Congo are unable to access healthcare because of the threat of violence and extortion from armed groups, the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has said.
Patients are arriving with life-threatening conditions at hospitals and health centres where MSF is providing medical assistance, the organization said in a statement, adding that it has treated more than 200 wounded people since April.
“A woman began miscarrying late at night; the bleeding was severe. But with all of the military and armed groups on the roads, her family was too scared to travel during the night, so they waited until the morning to walk the few hours to our hospital,” said an unnamed MSF nurse at Mweso hospital in eastern Congo’s North Kivu province.
“She arrived at noon. By then she had lost too much blood and there was very little we could do. She died within minutes of arriving," the nurse added.
Fighting erupted in North Kivu in April when hundreds of former rebels who had been integrated into the Congolese national army deserted after President Joseph Kabila announced plans to arrest Bosco Ntaganda. The renegade commander is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Some 100,000 people have been uprooted from their homes since then and have sought refuge in various areas within North Kivu and neighbouring South Kivu, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Thousands have fled to very remote and difficult to reach areas like forests, sheltering under plastic sheeting that they cover with leaves and have not yet received aid, MSF said.
The current instability in North and South Kivu is part of a cycle of violence in eastern Congo that continues to have severe health and humanitarian consequences for people living in the area, MSF said.
Experts say due to the shortage of qualified doctors, nurses and hospitals, there is limited medical assistance for the wounded. There is also a lack of psychosocial counselling for people who have witnessed traumatic scenes.
Many who have fled their communities describe harrowing scenes of violence including injuries from machete cuts and people being burned alive in their homes.
"Last month my parents' village was attacked and they tried to run but my mother was too unfit and could not flee. They cut her with a machete and killed her. My father ran but he was shot and killed,” a mother of five children told MSF.