DRC: Thousands seek safety in hospital as fighting intensifies in North Kivu 

Medical facilities supported by teams from the international medical organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have received huge influxes of war-wounded patients as thousands of people flee the latest waves of armed clashes in North Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). With civilians and medical facilities caught in the crossfire, MSF urgently calls on all parties to the conflict to ensure the safety of patients, medical staff and health facilities, the protection of civilians, and unhindered access for humanitarian organisations.

In the weeks following 22 January, following an escalation in armed clashes between various armed groups in the area, some 10,000 people fled their homes in and around Mweso, in Masisi territory, and sought refuge in Mweso General Hospital.

In January, and notably in the past two weeks, MSF teams in the Ministry of Health-run hospital have treated around 67 war-wounded people, mostly for gunshot wounds and injuries from explosions. More than 50 of these patients were civilians, including 21 children under the age of 15. Additionally, MSF teams have provided displaced people with psychological support and distributed temporary shelters, water filters and soap.

With fighting intensifying in Mweso over recent days, the number of people sheltering in the hospital has reduced, with many people fleeing the area towards Kitshanga, Katsiru, Nyanzale, Pinga, Kalembe and Kashunga. However, at least 2,500 people, including children whose parents have been killed, continue to shelter in Mweso Hospital.

“The situation is extremely concerning,” says MSF project coordinator Çaglar Tahiroglu. “The hospital is overwhelmed, with thousands of people crowded inside, trying to find some protection from the fighting. Alongside the Ministry of Health, we are doing our best to help everyone, but we do not have enough necessities, such as food.”

"My first child fell ill, then the second" ​ Feza, 34, took refuge in the forest with her husband and their two children after fleeing fighting between armed groups near their village. Her two children, of 3 and 1 years old, are currently admitted to the intensive care unit of the inpatient therapeutic feeding centre at the Mweso general referral hospital for severe acute malnutrition with complications. Photographer: Laora Vigourt | DRC | 16/08/2023

CONFLICT SPILLS OVER TO THE SOUTH KIVU PROVINCE OF THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO.

Across the border in South Kivu province, where almost 155,000 people have been displaced since December 2022, according to the UN, the recent clashes have caused a new wave of displacement, with several thousand panicked people arriving in recent days in the border town of Bweremana and Minova, further south.

At the MSF-supported Minova General Hospital, medical staff treated around 30 injured people between 2 and 6 February, including four children, 10 women and 12 people requiring surgery.

With the road between North Kivu’s capital, Goma, and the town of Shasha, 27 km to the west, currently impassable due to the fighting, people are being referred from health centres in the southern part of North Kivu to Minova General Hospital and other health facilities in South Kivu, overwhelming them with patients, including rising numbers of survivors of sexual violence.

“Today, health facilities in Minova are overwhelmed and are facing shortages of essential medicines to treat common conditions such as malaria, diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition and respiratory infections,” says Rabia Ben Alí, MSF emergency coordinator in South Kivu. “Over the past four weeks, we have seen the number of weekly cases of sexual violence treated at the hospital in Minova doubling.”

View of the newly constructed buildings at the referral health centre in Nyabiondo, supported by MSF since 2009, in support of the Ministry of Health. Between January and September 2023, medical teams conducted 43,363 consultations. Photographer: Laora Vigourt | DRC | 16/09/2023
View of the newly constructed buildings at the referral health centre in Nyabiondo, supported by MSF since 2009, in support of the Ministry of Health. Between January and September 2023, medical teams conducted 43,363 consultations. Photographer: Laora Vigourt | DRC | 16/09/2023

CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE IN THE NORTH KIVU PROVINCE OF THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

As fighting intensifies and approaches the cities of Mweso and Minova, the safety of civilians, medical staff and patients is in increasing jeopardy.

In Mweso city centre, several houses have been hit by explosives, killing civilians. In the week of 22 January alone, an estimated 20 civilians were killed, including one child, and a further 41 were injured. In the last week of January, bullets from crossfire hit the MSF base and Mweso hospital, injuring one caregiver, while on 2 February, the area between Mweso hospital and the MSF base was hit by an explosive.

Concerned for its teams' safety, MSF has temporarily relocated some staff from Mweso and Minova.

"We continue to provide support, mostly remote, to Mweso hospital, as well as to nine health centres in the area,” says Tahiroglu. “MSF staff will return as soon as the security situation allows. However, we cannot provide medical care under these conditions, where healthcare facilities are not protected and medical staff are caught in the crossfire.”

"I'm pregnant, so I wanted to be as close as possible to the hospital". ​ Nirasafari, aged 41, has been taking refuge with her youngest son Dukuze for several weeks in a school in Mweso. ​ "The armed men came to my village in April. My husband was killed, so I fled alone with my youngest son. We took refuge in the bush and then came here. I'm pregnant, so I wanted to be as close as possible to the hospital". ​ Three weeks ago, Nirasafari gave birth to her baby Ishara at the Mweso general referral hospital, supported by MSF since 2005 in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. "My first children have already grown up and started their own families, but Ishara, who has just been born, will never know his father. ​ This is the second time she has fled the fighting. Photographer: Laora Vigourt | DRC | 16/08/2023

VIOLENCE IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Since March 2022, the upsurge in armed clashes in North Kivu province, linked to the resurgence of the M23 movement, has forced more than one million people from their homes and caused a humanitarian disaster in the North Kivu province, already devastated by more than 30 years of armed conflict and mass displacement.

In the Mweso health zone in Masisi territory, North Kivu province, MSF teams have been providing medical care and humanitarian aid to people affected by the violence, including some 30,000 people temporarily displaced in February 2023. In the Masisi health zone, MSF teams continue to support Masisi General Hospital and five health centres despite the difficulty of bringing in supplies with roads cut off due to the fighting. In South Kivu province, MSF teams in Minova responded to the consequences of the conflict in North Kivu during the first half of 2023. Following a deterioration in the situation, MSF launched a new emergency response in December 2023 in nine sites where displaced people had settled.

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North Kivu: People and medical facilities caught in crossfire in the DRC | MSF
Doctors Without Borders receives war-wounded patients as people flee from the armed clashes in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
MSF Southern Africa
Hannah Maitre
Hannah Maitre Communications and Media Intern, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Southern Africa

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