Running a health center in a conflict zone

 Democratic Republic of Congo
 Emergency ResponseMaternal Health,
 9th Oct 2017

By Stépha Rouichi, Advoacy Manager for CARE DRC

I am in my hotel room in Mbujimayi, in the Oriental Kasai province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the past year, more than 1.4 million people had to flee their homes because of continuous armed conflict. The crisis is not easy to understand and has multiple causes. But what is clear is that people are in urgent need of assistance in this unprecedented humanitarian crisis. A study conducted by our team shows that internally displaced people’ need support in all areas of life.

People do not have enough to eat, they often don’t have a safe place to stay, they often lived through traumatic experiences and need medical and psychological help. When I met nurse Freddy in one of the health centers CARE is supporting, I realized just how difficult it is to provide assistance in an ongoing conflict, when health clinics themselves become the target, medication and technical equipment is not available and staff are not always trained for the difficult tasks ahead of them.

“We are experiencing lots of serious problems in our health center, as we had to support many internally displaced people who were wounded during violent clashes. We used to have two or three patients per day, the numbers are three times as high,” says Freddy. Last January, Freddy and his team themselves had to flee the violence. They heard shots near the health center and ran to a nearby village. Armed groups were on their way to the health clinic. “We spend an entire week in the bush. We did not eat, we did not sleep,” Freddy remembers.

When he and the others returned to the health center, it had been looted. No more medication, no scissors, no technical equipment. “The small boy had been bitten by a snake. We could not do anything for him. He came for help, but there was no medication we could give him,” Freddy recounts. Every day Freddy and his colleagues treat children who are suffering from acute malnutrition and women and girls who have been raped. Freddy and the other staff have been trained by CARE on how to support survivors of gender-based violence. The training provides the staff with a holistic approach, including medical treatment and psychosocial support. “In the past, we had many cases of girls and women who have been raped and we helped as much as we could. But we lacked the training and equipment to give them the care they needed. CARE’s training helped us a lot. Those women have already suffered so much. It feels good to be able to help them at least a little bit.”

Freddy’s health center does not only deal with survivors of sexual violence. The poor health and sanitary conditions have led to a spike in disease, especially malaria, diarrhea, and waterborne diseases. This health center and so many others I have seen urgently need more specialized support. People need equipment and medical supplies to better cope with undernutrition and injuries. Trainings are urgently needed for sexual and psychosocial health care for people who have experienced gender-based violence.

For more of our work in Democratic Republic of Congo, click here.

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