Written by Rowan Cody, Health Programme Manager, Save the Children, DRC
Being a child or a mother in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is extremely tough. And it just got a lot harder in the last few weeks.
A few weeks ago I received the first report of the advance of armed groups towards Goma from our security expert.
I instantly knew this spelled disaster for the local population, and sure enough around 130,000 people have now been forced to flee their homes in search of safety.
My name is Rowan and I manage Save the Children’s reproductive health programme in the Petit North Kivu region of eastern DRC.
My work is always challenging – in this part of the world birth rates are extremely high and access to healthcare for women is very low.
On top of that, DRC is known as the rape capital of the world. During the first half of this year, Heal Africa hospital in Goma recorded 2,517 people who have survived sexual and gender-based violence in North Kivu, where we work.
They also found that children were the most affected by sexual violence.
The health risks to women and children are now escalating. Apart from the risk of being caught in the cross-fire, or injuring themselves whilst fleeing the violence, children and families’ ongoing health problems will go untreated.
Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable – forced to leave behind their homes and give birth without friends or family, and with little or no access to maternity care, I can only imagine the fear and sadness they must experience.
One of these women is Florence.* Nine days ago – amid a displacement camp and escalating violence she gave birth. Her ordeal began a few weeks previously when she, her husband and four of their nine children fled her village in search of safety.
When fighting broke out again, they travelled to the displacement camp in Goma, where we found her. Fleeing this violence with your young children would be terrifying enough – doing it at nine months pregnant is almost unthinkable.
All her preparations to welcome her child into the world were ruined – the baby clothes and other items she had hurriedly grabbed before she fled were stolen after she arrived at the camp.
Her young daughter Marie, only two and a half years old is now sick with a fever and cough. In addition, Florence is unable return to her other children who were left behind, as she doesn’t have the money and transport options to do so.
Helping Florence’s family
Save the Children has provided her newborn son, Aksante with clothes and we’ll support Florence and her husband to access to free family planning options in the coming days.
Her story will stay with me forever, but this is just one woman. There are many more women in this region going through similar things, and what should be a happy time is turned into a terrifying and dangerous ordeal.
We’ll continue to identify these women and provide them with emergency healthcare to support them through the coming weeks and months.
Sadly, Aksante was born into a dangerous and desperate time – but with continued support from agencies like Save the Children, I can only hope his future is brighter.
*Not her real name.