“The pains were so intense that I thought my heart was going to stop”

displaced in Tanganyika

Jeanne and her baby at the Katanika camp near Kalemie

In the Tanganyika Province of eastern DRC, interethnic violence has dramatic consequences for the health of mothers and children. I went to meet Jeanne, 34 years old, who gave birth under the crackling of gunfire, lying on simple banana leaves.

“It was in October 2017, I was home at home in the village of Rutuku, by the shores of Lake Tanganyika. I was 8 months pregnant. One evening around 5 pm, while my husband was fishing at the lake, soldiers broke into our village. Shots were fired … We started to flee! I took my children to go to Kalemie. After 4 or 5 kilometers of walking, I felt pains in the lower abdomen and then blood began to flow. I had contractions and they continued to intensify. I did not understand because I was only 8 months pregnant! It was impossible to return to the village due to fear of reprisals but also because the whole village was emptied of its villagers.”

Jeanne, a courageous mother

The birth of a child is normally a moment of joy, an unforgettable moment for all mothers. But the story of Jeanne and the birth of little Paul is quite different.

“I forced myself to reach another village but I could not. My feet did not work anymore and did not want to move anymore. Some of the women in the group left to cut banana leaves and I lay down on it. I could hear the crackling sound of gunfire and my children were crying beside me … For more than two hours, I screamed like an animal because of the pains I had never felt in my life. When Paul came out I had neither gloves nor towels. Women recovered a reed to cut the umbilical cord and used an old loincloth to wrap it.”

An hour after the birth of little Paul, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, Jeanne faces a new pain: the contractions for the expulsion of the placenta. “The pains were so intense that I thought my heart was going to stop. All the traditional techniques put in place to get the placenta out were useless”, continues Jeanne, with tears in her eyes.

“It’s late at night when the placenta finally comes out. The mothers who accompanied me in my suffering then took me by the hand to Katibili, located a few kilometers away. We arrived around 2 am and found refuge by the side of a house. It was very cold that day. After spending three days in Katibili, my children and I joined the Katanika camp in Kalemie. A few weeks later my husband, whom I thought dead, arrived here!”

Maintaining the health of children and women at the heart of the crisis

Since they settled in Katanika camp, located about ten kilometers south-west of the Kalemie village, the situation for Jeanne and her children is still complicated. Paul, who is now 4 months old, has not received any vaccine yet. Cholera and malnutrition are constant threats on the camp.

Interethnic conflicts have a dramatic impact on the health of mothers and children. The destruction of 30 health facilities has reduced access to health care for the population affected by the violence. Prevalence rates of acute malnutrition among children are increasing in many health areas. Conflict, lack of food and access to water are fertile ground for the proliferation of recurrent measles and cholera outbreaks in the Tanganyika Provinces.

More info about interethnic violence in Tanganyika:

Translated from French by Mariana Santos 

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Benjamin Kasongo

Benjamin Kasongo est membre du Réseau des Journalistes Amis de l'Enfance (RJAE), basé à Kalémie.

Benjamin Kasongo is member of the network Réseau des Journalistes Amis de l'Enfance (RJAE), based in Kalémie.

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