DR Congo

Escalating DRC conflict raises health risks for thousands of displaced

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29 October, 2008 - KINSHASA/GENEVA - The World Health Organization fears the escalating conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province will have major health consequences in terms of violence-related injuries for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been forced to flee the fighting. Controlling the spread of communicable diseases and ensuring access to safe food and water are key concerns.

"WHO has medicines and staff in the country ready to assist in the response to the health crises," Dr Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General for WHO's Health Action in Crises Cluster. "We are closely monitoring the situation and we urge parties to the conflict to not target health facilities and those delivering health care to the population."

During recent months, violence in eastern DRC had displaced 200 000 people and tens of thousands more have been forced to flee during the recent escalation. WHO has offices in the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma and in neighbouring South Kivu's main city, Bukavu. WHO staff in the national capital, Kinshasa, are on standby to assist.

More than 30 000 internally displaced people have arrived at a temporary accommodation camp established by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Kibati 10 kilometres north of Goma. Hundreds more people have been fleeing insecurity into neighbouring countries, including Uganda. The displaced have been forced on marches in areas where health facilities do not exist.

Ensuring the provision of clean water and safe food, as well as appropriate sanitation facilities, are essential measures to take to prevent the outbreak of communicable diseases, including cholera and measles. Recent WHO figures showed that there had been at least 330 confirmed cases of cholera reported in North and South Kivu provinces during the past week. Eleven cases of measles have also been reported in the conflict area.

WHO is working with UN and other health partners to support the health needs of the displaced population, and will continue to support national and regional health authorities.

For further information or interviews contact:

Paul Garwood
Communications Officer
WHO, Health Action in Crises, Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 3462
Mobile: +41 794 755546
E-mail: garwoodp@who.int