New York/Kisangani — Hundreds of thousands of people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance as multiple crises hit Ituri province in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Thursday. A recent upsurge in violence has forced thousands of people to flee their homes--at a time when the region is already fighting an Ebola epidemic, massive measles outbreak, and the annual seasonal malaria peak. As many displaced people now shelter without assistance in camps in and around the city of Bunia, MSF is urgently calling on international organizations to scale up humanitarian aid.
"Unfortunately, this is not the first time there are important humanitarian needs in the country," said Dr. Moussa Ousman, MSF's head of mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. "This time we are seeing not only mass displacement due to violence but also a rapidly spreading measles outbreak and an Ebola epidemic that shows no signs of slowing down, all at the same time. This is unprecedented."
Intercommunal violence has been increasing in Ituri province since December 2017, and the large majority of people displaced as a result have been in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, some for more than a year. It is estimated that tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes in the most recent spike in violence across the territories of Djugu, Mahagi, and Irumu.
Since October 2018, MSF has conducted three mortality surveys in the region--specifically in Drodro, Nozzi, and Angumu--which showed that the mortality rates in these communities were far above emergency levels. Often reaching these levels triggers additional aid and support for communities.
"Our surveys show that people are mainly dying from preventable diseases such as malaria, measles, and diarrhea," Dr. Ousman said. "That is very worrying, especially as it has not yet been possible to vaccinate against measles because of the ongoing Ebola outbreak, and the fear of Ebola spreading further. Together with the Ministry of Health we are looking at what innovative strategies we can implement given the circumstances, but more help is urgently needed here to prevent more deaths."
Following the three mortality surveys that show mortality levels have been above emergency levels since August 2018, MSF has repeatedly called on the international aid community in DRC to help respond to this crisis, but so far a meaningful response has yet to materialize. An immediate scale up of long-term humanitarian assistance is needed to prevent the loss of more lives and to ensure decent living conditions for people in Ituri province who have been forced to flee their homes and live in camps for internally displaced people.
MSF is supporting the local Ministry of Health to provide medical care and respond to the most acute needs of the displaced in Drodro, Nizzi, and Bunia. MSF teams are also providing clean water, distributing relief items, and constructing showers and latrines. MSF is also involved in DRC's Ebola and measles responses. Nevertheless, for thousands of families forced from home due to violence, many of the needs remain unmet.
MSF has been present in DRC since 1977. The organization has several emergency response teams across the country to respond to health and humanitarian emergencies, including epidemics, pandemics, population displacement, and natural disasters. These teams also provide epidemiological surveillance and, when necessary, provide emergency-response medical actions aimed at limiting morbidity and mortality.