June 07, 2013

Around 5,000 people found refuge in Sotraki Stadium following clashes at the end of May between M23 rebels and the Congolese army. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has established a mobile clinic at this site about 12 kilometres from Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

In the Bulengo and Mugunga III camps MSF medical teams have resumed seeing patients after a 24-hour interruption for security reasons. The security situation remains volatile, and humanitarian needs are pressing.

Sotraki camp

Nearly 5,000 people fled villages near the front lines of fighting that erupted in the week of May 20. After spending several nights in schools and parishes outside Goma, the displaced people were assembled at Sotraki Stadium to facilitate delivery of aid.

“My house was destroyed, and I couldn’t take a thing with me,” said Gertrude, who came to the stadium with her five children and 10 nephews and nieces.

Some people were able to hastily gather a few personal effects. A large number were hungry: they reported not having eaten for days.

Some families were separated as they fled. This was not the first such experience for many of these people. Most fled their homes during fighting in November 2012; some remember fleeing in 2008 and 1994.

MSF established a mobile clinic as soon as the displaced people arrived, treating over a hundred people a day. The most frequently-treated illnesses are diarrhea and respiratory infections.

“A quarter of the illnesses we are treating are cases of diarrhea, mostly in children under five,” said Carolina Lopez, MSF emergency coordinator. “Thirty-five per cent of our patients are seeing us for acute respiratory infections. Many of these illnesses are due to sleeping under the stars night after night. Overcrowding and poor hygiene breed these illnesses.”

In addition, MSF is trying to prevent an outbreak of cholera. “There are already patients suffering from cholera in other camps outside Goma—we absolutely have to avoid the spread of this disease,” said Lopez.

MSF has been running a cholera treatment center for several months at the Buhimba refugee camp.

Humanitarian situation still critical

Medical activity has resumed at the Bulengo refugee camp. The MSF team is providing primary care, vaccinations, and maternal health services.

The camp was established in November 2012. Because Bulengo is not an official camp, it receives only sporadic aid, and security is poor. Since November 2012 there has been only one distribution of essential items.

“We need plastic sheeting most of all. Some people did get some, but it’s been all torn up for a long time now,” said Sifa, who lives in the camp.

Relative calm returns

Since the fighting that took place a few kilometres away, the presence of uniformed men in the surrounding forest has been a concern for families. “You can’t go for firewood in the forest, because you might get raped, so we have to sell corn to buy charcoal for cooking,” Siada said.

Sexual assaults are commonplace at Bulengo, where 114 rapes have been reported since December 2012. The situation is similar at the Mugunga III camp, where medical teams observed a massive increase in sexual assaults just after the clashes, occasionally treating as many as 28 female patients a day. Rapes generally occur outside the camps, near the front lines.

MSF in North Kivu

MSF is providing primary and secondary health care in North Kivu province. On the outskirts of Goma , MSF is working in the Bulengo and Mugunga III camps and, since the end of May, in Sotraki Stadium as well.

Elsewhere in North Kivu the organization is supporting referral hospitals in Mweso, Pinga, Masisi, Rutshuru, Walikale, and Kitchanga, working in health centers, and operating mobile clinics.

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