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Civilian and medical facilities trapped in the line of fire as conflict intensifies in North Kivu

Medical facilities supported by teams from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have received huge influxes of war-wounded patients, as thousands of people flee the latest waves of armed clashes in North Kivu province, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). With civilians and medical facilities caught in the crossfire, MSF urgently calls on all parties to the conflict to ensure the safety of patients, medical staff and health facilities, the protection of civilians, and unhindered access for humanitarian organisations.

In the weeks following 22 January, after an escalation in armed clashes between various armed groups in the area, some 10,000 people fled their homes in and around Mweso, in Masisi territory, and sought refuge in Mweso general hospital.  

In January, and notably in the past two weeks, MSF teams in the Ministry of Health-run hospital have treated around 67 war-wounded people, mostly for gunshot wounds and injuries from explosions. More than 50 of these patients were civilians, including 21 children under the age of 15. Additionally, our teams have provided displaced people with psychological support and distributed temporary shelters, water filters and soap.

With fighting intensifying in Mweso over recent days, the number of people sheltering in the hospital has reduced, with many people fleeing the area towards Kitshanga, Katsiru, Nyanzale, Pinga, Kalembe and Kashunga. However, at least 2,500 people, including children whose parents have been killed, continue to shelter in Mweso hospital.

“The situation is extremely concerning,” says Çaglar Tahiroglu, MSF project coordinator. “The hospital is overwhelmed, with thousands of people crowded inside, trying to find some protection from the fighting. Alongside the Ministry of Health, we are doing our best to help everyone, but we do not have enough necessities, such as food.”  

Conflict spills over to the south

Across the border in South Kivu province, where according to the UN almost 155,000 people have been displaced since December 2022, the recent clashes have caused a new wave of displacement. Several thousand panicked people have arrived in recent days in the border town of Bweremana and in Minova, further south.

At the MSF-supported Minova general hospital, medical staff treated around 30 injured people between 2 and 6 February, including 4 children, 10 women and 12 people requiring surgery.

With the road between North Kivu’s capital, Goma, and the town of Shasha, 27 kilometres to the west, currently impassable due to the fighting, people are being referred from health centres in the southern part of North Kivu to Minova general hospital and other health facilities in South Kivu. This has overwhelmed these facilities with patients, including rising numbers of sexual violence patients. 

“Today, health facilities in Minova are overwhelmed and are facing shortages of essential medicines to treat common conditions such as malaria, diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition and respiratory infections,” says Rabia Ben Alí, MSF emergency coordinator in South Kivu. “Over the past four weeks, we have seen the number of weekly cases of sexual violence treated at the hospital in Minova doubling.”

Caught in the crossfire

As fighting intensifies and approaches the cities of Mweso and Minova, the safety of civilians, medical staff and patients is in increasing jeopardy.  

In Mweso city centre, several houses have been hit by explosives, killing civilians. In the week of 22 January alone, an estimated 20 civilians were killed, including one child, and a further 41 were injured. In the last week of January, bullets from crossfire hit the MSF base and Mweso hospital, injuring one caregiver, while on 2 February, the area between Mweso hospital and the MSF base was hit by an explosive.

Concerned for the safety of our teams, we have decided to temporarily relocate some staff from Mweso and Minova.  

“We continue to provide support, mostly remote, to Mweso hospital, as well as to nine health centres in the area,” says Tahiroglu. “MSF staff will return as soon as the security situation allows. However, we cannot provide medical care under these conditions, where healthcare facilities are not protected and medical staff are caught in the crossfire.”

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Médecins sans frontières (MSF).

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