The French international humanitarian non-governmental organisation, Medicins Sans frontiers (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, has raised the alarm on the “deplorable conditions under which thousands of refugees fleeing insecurity in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are currently living in North and South Kivu.
“We heard that peace had returned to Katasomwa in South Kivu so we decided to go there. Several people were killed along the road. Since we arrived here last July, we find it difficult to even eat,” Justin, one of the refugees from Masisi, was quoted as saying by MSF in a communique issued on Friday.
“We are threatened by rain, the shelters in which we live can be burnt down at any time. Our life here is miserable,” Justin added.
Medicins Sans Frontieres revealed that there were about 10,000 refugees who had found shelter in Katasomwa, far away from medical facilities.
“The long road that they travelled on foot during several weeks was not without its specific problems. Many of the refugees say they were victims of theft, violence including sexual violence.
“On their arrival, they discovered that the region is very poor and offers little resources and basic services. Access to health, education and protection is not assured,” MSF stated.
According to MSF, the refugees at the frontiers of North Kivu and South Kivu cohabit as communities, notably the Pygmies, who are themselves vulnerable and in dire need of basic amenities.
The influx of persons has been a great challenge to the health system. The health post in Katasomwa is only functioning now because it is run by persons very motivated but not having the means to carry out their functions, MSF pointed out.
“The displaced women avoid the health centre because they don’t have money to pay which forces them to give birth in the camp. Some die while giving birth, ” said Esther Isabayo Benimana, a nurse who spoke to MSF.
David Namegabe, a senior health official at the Katasomwa health centre, added: “The priority here has been to respond to health needs and we target populations within which the mortality rate is highest.
“We have noticed that this is notably among children aged between zero and 15 years and pregnant women who have a high mortality rate within the community.
“We also target all emergency surgeries which are the other principal cause of deaths within the community,” Namegabe added.
According to MSF, the people have not been vaccinated since 2017, which has forced it to organise a vaccination campaign in collaboration with the national health authorities.
MSF said it would have to vaccinate at least 7,000 children in the three target areas to protect them from diseases, such as measles.
It added that the Pygmy community had been a subject of discrimination in the health sector since the MSF team arrived in the area.
“Any child from another community can steal but they would accuse all members of the pygmy community even if the child is not from our community. Why? Because we have nothing to do.
“Our girls are raped and when they ask for the compensation they are given nothing,” a representative of the Pygmy community said.
“They are forcibly raped and sometimes we know those who committed the rape but we cannot report them to the judiciary because we don’t have money to pay for the process.
“Our women also take nine months to give birth to children and we do not know why we are always forgotten. That hurts us right inside our hearts,” Roza Nyirakongomani said.
In order to respond to the needs of the most isolated communities, MSF has selected a member from each village to serve as a health agent capable of quickly treating the most urgent cases and to refer the more serious cases to the nearest hospital which is in Chigoma, according to the communique.