Photo: Pascale Zintzen
On Thursday September 18, heavy fighting broke out between armed groups northeast of Masisi town, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province. The MSF team working in Masisi hospital performed emergency surgeries on 17 civilians and armed men injured in the fighting. Residents of Masisi town, neighbouring villages, and an estimated 12,000 displaced people in nearby camps fled into the bush as fighting intensified. More than half of the patients and some hospital staff also fled, fearing that fighting would reach the town. Despite the insecurity, MSF was able to keep the hospital running, including a nutritional centre with 54 malnourished children. On Friday evening fighting ceased, and many displaced people are now returning to Masisi town. MSF is assessing needs and, following reports of rapes perpetrated by armed men, raising awareness of the availability of medical care. MSF is currently the only international organization providing assistance in and around Masisi town. “This situation is yet another illustration of the violence, insecurity and repeated displacement faced by the people of North Kivu,” says Anna Halford, MSF coordinator in Masisi. “Despite a peace agreement reached in January, fighting has increased in violence and frequency. Caught up in the fighting, civilians are again forced to flee their homes in large numbers.” In addition to direct violence from shooting and attacks, the vulnerability of the population is increased by recent looting of health centres, including those in Kachuga and Busihe supported by MSF. In the past ten days, violence in North Kivu has resulted in the displacement of thousands of people. MSF will send an assessment team to Ngungu, a village south of Masisi town, where as many as 17,000 people are said to have congregated. MSF has also reinforced its programs in areas like Kitchanga, which is hosting large numbers of people fleeing villages close to the fighting. The population of Kitchanga has doubled in the past nine months, and MSF has opened two additional health posts to provide care for the increased numbers. In South Kivu province, 5,000-10,000 people fleeing violence have arrived in the Minova area, close to the border with North Kivu. A MSF team is evaluating this situation. Some wounded are arriving at the Minova Hospital where MSF has donated medical materials and drugs. Since early September, MSF has struggled to provide care in areas of active conflict in North Kivu. MSF’s activities include free primary and secondary healthcare, water and sanitation activities, treatment of rape victims, nutritional support, response to epidemics, and vaccinations.