Mobile clinics and the six-hour commute

08 February 2010

Two months after carrying out a health assessment in Kitutu, South Kivu, in eastern Congo DRC, I have returned with a small team to run mobile clinics for the local population, in particular the displaced families.

The recent military operations in this area in late 2009, and the subsequent reprisal attacks by armed militia, have forced thousands of families to flee their homes. Many villages are now empty, while others are growing with the arrival of the displaced families. It is common to find 3 or 4 families living under the same roof. Our aim is to provide temporary medical assistance during this period for the most vulnerable families.

Mobile clinic in Mapale

We have selected the most remote villages for our mobile clinics, where health centres rarely have the medicines they need to treat some of the most basic illnesses. The health zone of Kitutu is already pretty remote, a 10 hour drive from the main city of Bukavu in South Kivu. Even before the recent insecurity and displacement, the health care facilities here were providing only a bare minimum or services.

Our team sets off at 6am each morning on motorbikes, since there are no roads around here, just dirt tracks through the jungle, around the mountains, with rickety bridges over the numerous rivers. We load up our rucksacks full of medicines on the back of the bikes, and spend up to 3 hours on jarring paths to reach our destination. Each evening, we do the return journey to Kitutu.

It is an exhausting but exhilarating way to provide medical care to those who really need it. On the first day of our mobile clinic, after spending 6 hours on a motorbike, I fell into bed at 7pm.

While providing free health care through the mobile clinics, we are also asking questions to the displaced people who are coming for consultations, to get a better understanding of their situation. To give an idea, I spent 8 hours yesterday during our mobile clinic asking questions to displaced families. Out of 90 families I spoke to, I found out that:

  • 82 families had fled during a direct attack on their village
  • only 1 family had been able to bring blankets and jerrycans when they fled – two of the most basic items needed by a displaced family (I hope we could bring with us some non food items, but with the motorbikes this is almost impossible)
  • 9 families had experienced the death of a family member during the attack on their village
  • 40 families still had no news about some of their immediate family members following the attack

The demand for our free medical care is astounding. The nurses in these health centres are amazed by the hundreds of people arriving at our mobile clinics each day. They are used to doing 5 or 10 consultations each day! We are going to be kept busy over the next few weeks…