10 Jun 13 15 Jul 13

DRC: Providing emergency healthcare from a stadium

Families fleeing a wave of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo have found refuge in a stadium, where Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams are providing emergency healthcare.

The Sotraki stadium, 12 kilometres from Goma, is now a temporary home for nearly 5,000 people forced to abandon their villages after fighting erupted between the rebel group M23 and the Congolese army around the North Kivu province town on May 20th.

“The shells were falling on houses… My house was destroyed and I couldn’t take a thing with me,” said Gertrude, who got to the site with her five children and 10 nephews and nieces.

Medical needs

The security situation remains volatile and humanitarian needs are pressing.

While some families were able to grab a few personal effects, the majority fled empty-handed. Many were hungry; they reported not having eaten for a number of days. Some families were separated as they ran.

Our teams established a mobile clinic as soon as the displaced people arrived, treating over 100 people a day. The most frequent illnesses are diarrhoea and respiratory infections.

Epidemic risk

“Many of these illnesses are due to night after night of sleeping under the stars. Overcrowding, un-cleanliness, dust… all of this breeds these illnesses,” said Carolina Lopez, MSF emergency coordinator.  

She added: “A quarter of the illnesses we are treating are cases of diarrhoea, mostly children under five-years-old. Thirty five percent of our patients are seeing us for acute respiratory infections, which affects adults and children equally."

MSF is also 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,” says Lopez.

Refugee camps

On the outskirts of Goma, MSF works in the camps at Bulengo and Mugunga III.

Since the violence, medical work has resumed at Bulengo, which has been open since November 2012. Our team provides primary care, vaccinations and maternal health services.

Continued threat

Since the fighting erupted only a few kilometres from the camps, the presence of uniformed men in the forest concerns 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,” a local called Siada said.

Sexual assaults and crime are commonplace at Bulengo, where 114 rapes have been reported since December 2012. 

The situation is the same at Mugunga III camp, where medical teams observed a massive increase in sexual assaults just after the clashes, occasionally treating as many as 28 women a day. Rapes generally occur outside the camps near the front lines.

MSF in North Kivu, DRC

We are providing primary and secondary healthcare in North Kivu province. On the outskirts of Goma, we are working in the camps at Bulengo and Mugunga III and, since the end of May, in Sotraki  Stadium as well.

Elsewhere in North Kivu, we are supporting referral hospitals in Mweso, Pinga, Masisi, Rutshuru, Walikale, and Kitchanga, working in health centres and operating mobile clinics.

Read Victorine's testimony from Sotraki Stadium

Find out more about MSF's work in the DRC