In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the province of Tanganyika, armed violence that has raged for three years has seriously compromised access to health care. People living northwest of the provincial capital of Kalemie often face the disease on their own as medical facilities are attacked and looted.
In 2017, community violence and armed conflict erupted around Maurice Mwema’s hometown of Kilasi, 80 kilometers from Kalemie. He and his family fled into the bush for safety. They stayed for nearly three years, unable to leave due to security risks. “We got sick from the frequent rains and poor nutrition,” says Maurice. “The children’s hair has turned yellow, and it has turned to skin and bone.”
When the violence subsided, traditional leaders gathered to urge the displaced to return to their homes. On their return, people found that the attacks had devastated not only their homes and schools, but also health facilities.
“There was nothing left inside, no supplies, no personnel and the buildings had been destroyed,” explains Séraphin Kayite, the chief of the village of Kilasi.
The consequences of these attacks on medical facilities have been tragic, especially for young children. For more than two years, no child has been vaccinated. Families can only turn to traditional remedies, often herbal. Trésor Kingombe, who oversees nutritional monitoring in the region, says, “We have seen many deaths from the measles and malaria epidemics, including infants between the ages of six and 11 months.”
Providing health care against all odds
Health workers, who also fled the violence, started returning with everyone. Many, aware of the dire state of health care in the region, have brought back basic drugs and medical supplies. But getting hospitals back up and running has not been easy.
“We only produced outpatient care, whatever the case,” explains Benoît Mayenge, nurse at the Mulolwa health center.
“There was not even a single chair for the patients,” explains Jean Kabwe, a nurse at a health center in Lukombe. In addition, many rooms no longer had a roof and were exposed to the howling wind and driving rain.
And when drugs were low, the lack of available transportation made resupply a hardship. “We didn’t have bicycles or motorcycles. To make the trip, I had to walk nearly 20 kilometers and then take a motorcycle taxi to Kalemie. On the way back, I did the same, carrying the meds on my head, “Benoît said.
Provide sustainable support to communities
After assessing the humanitarian situation in the region at the end of 2019, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) began supporting three medical centers, serving more than 15,000 people in total, by providing basic equipment and medical supplies as well. only drugs.
“After a new assessment, we went from one-off help to regular support,” explains Jules Lugoma, a member of the ICRC health team. To improve access to medical care, all vulnerable people would receive free care and a package was put in place for all others.
The ICRC also organized training for health workers and promoted hygiene by improving the distribution of drinking water, another challenge in the region. In addition, bicycles were made available to facilitate vaccination in remote villages far from medical facilities. “More than 800 children under 23 months, as well as 227 pregnant women, have been vaccinated with our help,” explains Jules.
After completing its work at the Lukombe health center in May 2020, the ICRC turned to the nearby facilities of Mulolwa and Lambo Katenga. Repair work on the Mulolwa center was completed in early January 2021.
Community tensions persist in the region and some armed groups are still active. Most of those displaced have returned home, but their living conditions remain precarious.
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