© MSF/Avra Fialas
21 Mar 22 10 May 22

Democratic Republic of Congo: Insecurity and impunity force MSF to halt lifesaving medical work in Nizi and Bambu

21st March, 2022 – Four months after a convoy of vehicles belonging to international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) came under fire by unidentified armed men in Ituri province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), MSF has announced that it will close its projects in Nizi and Bambu due to a lack of security guarantees from all parties to the conflict. Two MSF staff were severely wounded in the attack, which took place on 28 October 2021 on the road between Kobu and Bambu in Ituri province’s Djugu territory.

A view of Lita's general hospital, that was attacked and looted by armed men, Djugu Territory, Ituri Province. (November, 2019).

Following the incident, MSF called on all parties to the conflict to condemn the attack and to respect international humanitarian law and protect medical facilities, health workers, ambulances, patients and the wounded. MSF also asked the authorities to launch an investigation into the incident, but this has not happened.  

Risks are too high

“We have been left with little choice but to close our projects,” said Olivier Maizoué, MSF programme manager for DRC.

View of the General Hospital of Reference in Boga, Ituri Province, Democratic Republic of Congo. (June, 2021).

“The risks are simply too high and therefore it is impossible for MSF to return to those areas with confidence. We regret this decision very much, since this will have dire consequences for a population with acute needs, but we cannot risk lives to save lives.” 

MSF will continue to provide medical and humanitarian aid

MSF will continue to provide medical and humanitarian aid elsewhere in Ituri province, including Drodro and Angumu, and will continue to support local health authorities in Nizi and Bambu by donating medicines and medical supplies to cover the months ahead.

General Referral Hospital of Nizi where MSF is in charge of the paediatric ward, treating the local community and the IDPs from the most common diseases like respiratory infections, malaria and diarreha. (May, 2020).

“We are, however, painfully aware that this one-off donation will not compensate for our departure and will adversely affect those people in dire need of healthcare,” said Maizoué. 

Calls for people to receive aid

All parties to the conflict are supposed to facilitate unimpeded access of humanitarian aid for civilians in need and respect and protect humanitarian personnel.

A room at Lita's general hospital, that was attacked and looted by armed men, Djugu Territory, Ituri Province. (November, 2019).

MSF therefore maintains its request for an investigation to be carried out by the authorities and calls for all warring parties as well as all persons in a position of influence to work on ensuring an environment that allows people to receive the aid they so desperately need.  

Numerous attacks and looting of healthcare facilities

The attack in October was not the only recent incident to impact MSF teams in Ituri province. In June 2021, the main referral hospital in Boga town, which was supported by MSF, was severely damaged during fighting in the town.

A ward at Lita's general hospital. (Novemebr, 2019).

At least 12 people lost their lives, while several buildings, including the intensive care unit, were burnt down, and the hospital’s pharmacy and stocks of medical supplies were looted.  

Impunity fuels more violence

“We are concerned by the numerous attacks and looting of health facilities and we are deeply disturbed by the climate of impunity that reigns today in this part of DRC,” said MSF head of mission Jérome Alin. “We know that impunity fuels yet more violence.” 

Children playing with skipping rope at the Kambe IDP site. (January, 2020).

MSF teams in other areas of DRC have witnessed similar incidents aimed at medical and humanitarian workers. To voice their concern and show solidarity with their colleagues and with everyone affected, MSF staff in DRC will stage a one-day protest on 23 March 2022. On that day, only lifesaving medical activities will continue.  

Focus on paediatric healthcare and malnutrition treatment

MSF teams started working in Nizi and Bambu in June 2018, providing medical services to some 471,000 people affected by years of conflict, with a focus on paediatric healthcare, including malnutrition treatment.

View of Internally displaced people's camp in the territory of Djugu in Ituri province of DR Congo. (May, 2020).

MSF teams also provided clean drinking water and constructed latrines and showers for displaced people in the area.  

“We are concerned by the numerous attacks and looting of health facilities and we are deeply disturbed by the climate of impunity that reigns today in this part of DRC, we know that impunity fuels yet more violence.” 

[jérome alin][msf head of mission]

Elsewhere in Ituri province, MSF supports two Ministry of Health hospitals, 12 health centres, three health posts and 32 community health sites in Drodro and Angumu, treating people for childhood diseases, malnutrition and malaria, caring for survivors of sexual violence and providing mental health support. In recent weeks, MSF teams have also worked with hospitals in Bunia to treat war-wounded patients. 

MSF has been working in DRC for more than 40 years and currently runs projects in 20 of the country's 26 provinces, providing medical care to victims of conflict and violence, to people displaced from their homes, and to people suffering from disease epidemics including cholera, measles and HIV. MSF’s emergency response teams are on standby throughout the country to respond to epidemics, natural disasters and conflicts.