WHO coordinates health relief to people displaced in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
21 November 2008 -- In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, renewed hostilities are putting health facilities under extreme pressure. We find out what is being done to provide essential health services for the people pushed out of their homes and forced to abandon their communities.
Transcript of the podcast
Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast. My name is Veronica Riemer and this is episode number 53.
In the mountainous jungle-covered eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, renewed hostilities are putting health facilities under extreme pressure. In this episode, we find out what is being done to provide essential health services for the people pushed out of their homes and forced to abandon their communities.
The hostilities in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have recently escalated. As a result, the region has been shocked by a sudden humanitarian crisis. Among the challenges are weak health services, endemic diseases, poor infrastructure and lack of security. Together, they represent a volatile combination that puts the lives and health of hundreds of thousands of people at risk.
Even before the latest crisis broke out, local health facilities were in tatters. Now they are on the verge of collapse. Omar Khatib from the Department of Emergency and Humanitarian Action, in our African Regional Office, talks about the impact of the long-drawn war.
Omar Khatib: The problem is, because of the war, so many years of war, the health system has also suffered. And the health system has been affected because of the lack of, definitely, investment into health, but also the fact that these belligerents also target health institutions. Therefore, the long-running war that is still going on has obviously left the country without proper health care to address the health needs of these populations.
Veronica Riemer: WHO is now coordinating relief agencies in the effort to provide health services in the North and South Kivu, where the conflict has recently escalated. Along with its partners, WHO is also working in neighbouring provinces and countries where many people are fleeing.
Donors have provided WHO with 60 tonnes of medicines, water purification systems and other vital supplies. These have been flown into neighbouring Uganda and are being taken to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by truck and air. Jules Pieters, the Operations Response Manager of WHO, tells us about the problems in delivering these supplies.
Jules Pieters: The area is very insecure: over the last few days the UN had to evacuate the civilian staff to a camp near lake Kivu. We understand that people are allowed to return to work but there is a curfew, for example. Outside the main towns, there is a lot of fighting between various groups that is causing, again, displacement of the population. And first of all it is very difficult to locate them because people are hiding in the jungle, so access is a big issue to the population, but so also is the movement of humanitarian workers. We cannot move freely, staff work unprotected and obviously that limits the range.
Veronica Riemer: How will WHO overcome these problems?
Jules Pieters: A few days ago a humanitarian corridor was negotiated and WHO, WFP, UNICEF, and other partners organized a convoy to provide some essential medicines, water and so on to the population. That will have to be renegotiated. And, first and foremost, the host government should ensure our safety: so that we can work freely and so that we have free access. On top of that, the UN forces are of great help and they provide security support wherever they can.
Veronica Riemer: The Government of Norway has donated eight sets of water purification equipment to provide clean drinking water for some 60 000 people. Yves Chartier from WHO's Department of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene is undertaking a needs assessment from a camp for internally displaced people outside Goma. He talks about the priorities identified by WHO staff.
Yves Chartier: The priorities: there are a number of standards which have been defined. We try to reach at least 15-20 litres per person per capita and also people should have access to latrines. I think the basic things are: people need to have safe water for drinking, to have access to sanitation - just to keep all the waste to one side - and also hygiene facilities. And it is very important that they are doing promotion of hand hygiene, for instance. So, in this camp this morning, one person was moving around with a microphone to provide the information about hygiene, about washing hands etc. which is very important.
Also to reinforce the health system: if people have access to medical facilities where there is not enough staff, or not enough drugs, I think WHO can also support by providing drugs. So we are bringing in lots of supplies. About 60 000 supplies are coming down from Entebbe to Goma with drugs, with trauma kits with ringer (IV fluid for hydration), with water kits and this also can be provided to cholera treatment centres to treat patients.
Veronica Riemer: Cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases are some of the major health risks for the displaced people. Other risks include malaria and measles. Health workers from WHO are tracking these diseases in the camps.
Yves Chartier: Our concern is to set up a surveillance system because people are weak and they have been travelling. They are not well fed so they are at risk of getting disease. So what is important is that we have a surveillance system just to make sure that in any case if there is an outbreak or someone is sick, that the person can be transferred to a medical facility where the person can get good treatment.
Veronica Riemer: For more information about the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, visit our web site at www.who.int/disasters.
That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics drop us a line. Our email address is Podcast@who.int.
For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.