Since 2017, the Djugu territory of Ituri province in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been convulsed by conflict. In November 2021, rising community tensions resulted in four attacks of unprecedented violence in Tché, Drodro, Paroisse, Luko, and Ivo.
This new escalation has pushed vulnerable people already displaced by the conflict to the brink. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is scaling up its response in the area to meet the massive and growing humanitarian needs.
“People have been facing many difficulties; the cold, the lack of shelters and latrines,” said MSF doctor Benjamin Safari in 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.”
Facing trauma and isolation
“I am left to my own destiny. With no food, my children and I have been sick since we arrived to the site,” said Suzanne, a 52-year-old farmer from Dhedja, who fled to Ivo with her three children.
In Ivo, she saw passersby being shot at and heard her neighbors get attacked with machetes as she managed to escape with her family. The images of her neighbors being massacred are repeatedly replayed in her mind as she struggles to provide for her children with few prospects for the future. This is the second time she has been forced to flee—this time to the displaced people’s camp in Rhoe.
Like Suzanne, more than 40,000 people have been forced to take refuge in this camp, in the Blukwa state health area. This region is difficult to access and humanitarian groups have a reduced presence due to recurring insecurity.
MSF adapts project to meet shifting needs
Originally, the MSF clinic set up in the camp was intended to refer patients requiring more intensive care to the better-equipped general referral hospital in the town of Drodro. However, following the latest clashes that destroyed parts of Drodro and forced people into the camp, our teams transformed the clinic into a field hospital to help some 65,000 people there—an increase of 40,000 people in two months.
In the past few weeks, our teams carried out an average of more than 800 consultations per week, assisted 35 deliveries, and treated several dozen patients requiring mental health care. In addition, our health promotion teams have conducted health awareness sessions at the site, with the aim of detecting cases of acute malnutrition, diseases with epidemic potential, and providing information on support services for potential victims of sexual violence.
Calling for an end to 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,” said Davide Occhipinti, MSF’s project coordinator in Drodro. “We will be unable to follow these people to Drodro if it is not safe for the health care staff," he said.
“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," said Occhipinti.
In Ituri, MSF supports four general referral hospitals, 12 health centers, three health posts, and 32 community care sites in the health zones of Drodro, Nizi, Bambu, and Angumu for the management of pediatric diseases, malnutrition, malaria, sexual violence and mental health.