Heavy fighting over the last few days in Pinga, a town in the conflict-afflicted North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has made it difficult for Médecins Sans Frontières to carry out its vital medical work. Thousands of the town’s inhabitants have fled into the surrounding forests and eleven of MSF’s Congolese staff members are missing.
“MSF is very concerned about civilians routinely exposed to this violence – this is the eighth time Pinga has changed hands since 2012,” says Jan Peter Stellema, MSF’s operations manager in Goma. “A number of patients had to be transferred for emergency surgery to Goma, among them a 70 year old woman after she was shot in the arm” he adds.
|Kabalo Hospital, DRC: MSF treating malaria and measles. Photo: Guillaume Brumagne|
After the first wave of attacks on Sunday a large part of the town’s population fled into the surrounding forest. The remainder sought refuge at the local hospital, but was forced out by armed men. Houses have been burned and looted, and a combatant was decapitated, further increasing the level of panic and alarm in town. 11 Congolese staff members have not reported for work and are currently missing.
In the past year, an MSF team has managed to support the town hospital, continue to run a large clinic in the town and has been able at times to cross frontlines to support clinics in the surrounding area. However, negotiating access with the multiple armed actors and alliances present in the area remains extremely challenging. Health centres have been looted and medical equipment destroyed.
“Providing healthcare is proving a challenge when medical facilities are not respected, staff are missing, people have fled the area and those who remain fear being subjected to harsh treatment, illegal taxation, forced recruitment or worse,” says Jan Peter Stellema.
Despite challenging conditions, MSF continues to provide high quality medical care in four reference hospitals, 12 health centres and four health posts in the North Kivu Province of DRC and four reference hospitals, 19 health centres and five health posts in the province of South Kivu. This is in addition to running several cholera treatment centres (CTC), weekly mobile clinics, and emergency response activities as required.
For more about the Médecins Sans Frontières, refer to www.msf.org.