Célestin Kasereka had just hobbled 15 kilometres on crutches to reach Oicha Hospital to get his injured leg treated. “This painful journey took all day,” said Kasereka, a teacher at a school in the remote village of Mayi-Moya in the eastern Beni region of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever left my village,” he told IRIN, looking exhausted after his ordeal. “I had no choice as there’s no longer a clinic near us."
According to the top medical health official in the region, 32 clinics around Beni have shut up shop since July. The people running the clinics are “frightened of being targeted for attack by Ugandan rebels,” explained the official, Ndungo Nzalamingi, referring to the Allied Democratic Forces, an insurgency the DRC army and UN troops have been battling for months in joint operations.
Civilians are paying the heaviest price for the closure of all the local medical facilities, both those run by the government and those run by international aid agencies. They now have to walk long distances to reach health clinics. Célestin is not alone. Many other people in the region have similar stories to tell. “My pregnant wife was taken to Oicha Hospital on a bicycle to give birth,” Ivange Kahoya, also from Mayi-Moya, told IRIN.
30,000 people left to fend for themselves
The closures effectively mean “a population of around 30,000 people has been left to fend for itself without access to basic healthcare,” Nzalamingi said. However, the doctor stressed that the decision to “temporarily” shutter the services in the conflict zone was the “wisest” thing to do, given that “several clinics have already been attacked and ransacked by the rebels.”
Nzalamingi did not say how many attacks there had been or go into details about damage. He did add, however, that the closures had made the humanitarian situation even more difficult, especially as “Oicha Hospital, where a number of sick people in the region are now being redirected, cannot meet all the new demand.”
Teddy Kataliko, head of the Beni region civil society, said he was “sorry and disappointed to hear about the closure, even temporarily, of the clinics.”
“It’s there, where there’s conflict and violence that one has the most need for health clinics to treat the distressed population,” Kataliko told IRIN.
Vicky Prekabo, an information officer in North Kivu for OCHA, the UN’s humanitarian aid coordination body, said the level of insecurity in the Beni region made it hard to reach all those in need.
Some 10,000 people have been displaced within Beni territory and have little or no access to humanitarian assistance, according to an organisation in Oicha that works to coordinate aid to the displaced.
Others have fled beyond North Kivu.
According to OCHA, an attack on the village of Kakuku in Beni on 14 July prompted 11,000 people to flee into the neighbouring Ituri district, where they found shelter with the local population.
In late 2014, the ADF was blamed for a spate of killing sprees in Beni that claimed the lives of some 250 men women and children.