"It is a sad indictment of us all that seven years into this crisis ignorance about its scale and impact is almost universal, and that international engagement remains completely out of proportion to humanitarian need," IRC's health director Rick Brennan said in a Lancet press release.
The three previous IRC studies, conducted between 2000 and 2002, demonstrated that an estimated 3.3 million people had died as a result of the war. Latest estimates from the 2004 study highlight how 3.9 million people have died since the conflict began in 1998.
"We have conducted additional tests that have provided a more accurate estimate of mortality," Brennan says. "This additional analysis resulted in higher estimates of both the crude mortality rate and the mortality rate in children below five years of age ."
The latest figures indicate that almost 38,000 deaths occur in DR Congo every month above what is considered a 'normal level' for the country, translating into 1,250 excess deaths every day. Over 70 percent of these deaths, most due to easily preventable and treatable diseases, occur in the insecure eastern provinces.
"Less than two percent of the deaths were directly due to violence," Brennan points out. "However, if the effects of violence - such as the insecurity that limits access to health care facilities - were removed, mortality rates would fall to almost normal levels."
Six years into the conflict, the national crude mortality rate is 40 percent higher than the average for Africa.
"Major governments, the United Nations, the African Union, humanitarian agencies and the international media must all play a role," Brennan says. "Improved security is essential to lower the death toll; greater political engagement is urgently required; the parties to the conflict must be held to account; and the level of humanitarian aid must be increased dramatically. The citizens of DR Congo must finally be given the chance to live their lives in peace and security, and to achieve their full potential."