BLOG – At first sight, it is on peaceful roads that we drive towards Miabi, located at 35 kilometers of Mbuji Mayi, the capital of the province of Eastern Kasai in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I am on a mission in the region of Grand Kasaï which has been struck by violence for several months already. We use two vehicles to drive the road linking Mbuji Mayi to Miabi. We cross small villages; people greet us. Nothing suggests that the region has been affected by strong waves of violence between militias and the security services. Once arrived in Miabi, this impression of peace quickly proves misleading.
A health zone at the heart of violence in Eastern Kasai
The Miabi health zone includes 14 areas and has about 165,000 inhabitants. Dr. Joseph Kabongo, interim zone chief, talks about the impact of violence on the population.
“How many are we today? I cannot say exactly. In recent months, the area faced a lot of violence. Four health areas were attacked during clashes. But, it is the entire health zone that is impacted. Health care infrastructures are no longer or partially functioning and are facing an influx of displaced populations. I estimate that at least 20% of the population in the health zone has abandoned their households. For example, in the Miketa health area, all houses and infrastructures were burnt down. The health area has completely emptied of its population.”
Today, the situation is calmer. But fear is clearly there
Everyone in Miabi has stories to tell about the horror of violence: people who have been killed, women raped, children wounded by bullets, whole families fled to the bush to then come out weeks later, and others with host families to find refuge more than twenty kilometers away from their village.
Today, the situation is calmer. However, fear is clearly there. The slightest rumor about acts of violence is enough to create a new population movement.
A conflict with multiple consequences
Violence has a devastating effect on the health of Miabi’s children. All state services, and particularly that of health care, could not be provided during the periods of violence. Some nurses were killed; others did not dare go to their health center. The population is afraid of suffering acts of violence on the way to the center. The supply of vaccine and basic medicine to the centers had become problematic. This has multiple consequences.
“In the past, almost all pregnant women were assisted during childbirth. Today, one in four women in our health zone gives birth on her own in the community. Many women died during childbirth, many newborns died in the bush and were buried there”, explains Dr. Joseph Kabongo, visibly affected by this situation.
He continues: “In three Miabi health areas, the incidence of severe acute malnutrition in young children has increased significantly”. This is the case, for example, in the Tshinyama health area where the center registered 184 new cases of severe acute malnutrition for the months of May and June 2017, whereas for the whole year of 2016 this center took care of only 254 malnourished children.
The little Kabenga weighed only 2.8 kilos
In the pediatric ward of Miabi’s general referral hospital, I meet Tshinguta, a young mother of 22 years and her child Kabenga (4 months). Tshinguta fled her home following the violence in Miketa. After a long walk of almost 30 kilometers and several days spent in the bush, she joined her parents in the city of Miabi.
The young Kabenga weighed only 2.8 kg and his life was in danger. Tshinguta took him to the hospital. “Today, Kabenga is doing much better”, reassures the pediatric nurse. “Treatment with UNICEF’s therapeutic milk has done him good. In a few days, he gained more than 400 grams. He’s going to make it.”
However, I know that many other children suffering from malnutrition will not have that chance…
Water and nutrition: two priorities for children’s health in Kasaï
UNICEF has been active for many years in the Grand Kasaï region from its offices in Mbuji Mayi and Kananga. Since the emergence of violence, our teams have set up emergency response programs in different zones of Grand Kasaï. In Miabi, UNICEF is working with the local Amis des Personnes en Detresse (APEDE) organization (Friends of People in Need), to bring drinking water to health centers and communities and to provide care for malnourished children.
For Dr. Joseph Kabongo, the support of UNICEF and its partners is essential: “Today we are able to take care of malnourished children and, since the UNICEF partner has been bringing water to health centers and communities, we saw the number of diarrhea cases drop from almost 700 cases in March to just over 300 cases last month.”
Faced with the impact of violence on the health of children in Grand Kasaï, UNICEF has intensified its humanitarian response by supporting the upgrading of health centers, guaranteeing access to water and sanitation, providing therapeutic food to thousands of children in nutritional centers, and training hundreds of community workers so that they can screen children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
Dr. Joseph Kabongo is confident that the health situation of children in his health zone could improve “provided that violence does not resurface again in the area.”
More info about children’s health in Kasai
Translated from French by Dorsaf N. James
Yves Willemot est le chef de l’Équipe InfoCom de l’UNICEF RDC. Plus que tout, ce qui est important pour lui c'est d'être "tous ensemble pour les enfants".
Yves Willemot is Head of the UNICEF DRC InfoCom Team. More than anything, he believes that the most important is to "be together for the children".
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