The people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have endured decades of civil war, a period over which 5.4 million Congolese died from violence, hunger and disease. While the war officially came to an end years ago, the eastern region of DRC remains one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis zones. Violence remains a constant threat and the UN estimates that 54,000 women have reported being raped since 2004. However, this number is likely to be much higher, as many women fear coming forward because they are often ostracised from their communities and forced to abandon their livelihoods. Rebel groups fight for control of the country’s vast natural resources terrorising civilians and causing millions to suffer from ongoing conflict and displacement.
*Please note the images used on this page are not of survivors of sexual or gender based violence
International Medical Corps began working in DRC in 1999. We have since served more than one million people, 80 percent of whom were displaced by the war. Today, we provide health care, nutrition, food security, sexual violence prevention and treatment, and water and sanitation services in some of DRC’s most remote and volatile areas, often where the presence of other international organisations is extremely limited or non-existent.
In 2010, International Medical Corps was awarded a five-year cooperative grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pledge to address sexual violence during her trip to DRC.
Taking a holistic approach to rape and sexual violence in eastern DRC, the Care, Access, Safety, & Empowerment (CASE) and Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) programmes build the capacity of the health sector so that survivors have better access to quality medical services, as well as psychosocial care, legal support, and skills-building and educational opportunities. To prevent future cases, International Medical Corps is engaging communities in the fight against GBV to change public attitudes and opinions on gender and violence.
Care, Access, Safety, and Empowerment (CASE)
As early medical treatment is critical, International Medical Corps trains health care workers in compassionate clinical care for female and male sexual assault survivors. We train health care workers to provide confidential, consent-based referrals so that survivours have access to medical services as well as psychosocial, livelihood and legal support if desired. International Medical Corps also works with national health authorities to provide critical medicines and health equipment, infrastructure rehabilitation, and monitoring and facility support.
Through CRCs, International Medical Corps offers skills-building and educational opportunities to vulnerable men and women, including survivors of GBV. These learning opportunities empower survivors in their recovery and increase their opportunities to earn income. International Medical Corps is working with communities to explore additional livelihoods activities that will be most beneficial to vulnerable women.
Behaviour Change Communication (BCC)
Integrated into CASE, the BCC program considers the consequences of GBV not only for the survivors, but also for families and communities as a whole. Together with Search for Common Ground and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Communications, the BCC program targets various groups to change societal, community and individual attitudes and behaviours concerning gender and violence. Using popular music, community theatre, youth events, radio soap operas, public service announcements and local community organisations, the BCC program aims to reduce stigma and foster more supportive communities for survivors and their families.
International Medical Corps also trains and engages health service providers, teachers, youth workers, community and religious leaders, and law enforcement officials in the prevention of GBV and compassionate support for survivors.
In addition to supporting existing health facilities and providing mobile medical services, International Medical Corps works in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and non-governmental organizations to increase the number of well-trained health professionals in DRC.
International Medical Corps not only provides direct care for malnourished people, but also works to create more sustainable solutions to hunger by engaging parents in the fight against malnutrition. To help parents take control of their families’ nutritional needs, International Medical Corps provides them with the education materials, tools and training to grow their own staple crops.
In all of our health programmes, International Medical Corps staff integrate messages about the importance of water purification, proper hand washing and personal hygiene to remaining healthy. This increases the likelihood that local people will remember these messages and follow up in their own homes.
International Medical Corps UK recognises the invaluable support of the following European donors to make our work possible.
Just 22 hours after the devastating 7.0-earthquake hit in January 2010, International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Team was on the ground in Haiti providing medical care to survivors. Our doctors and nurses were able to mobilise on an unparalleled scale to provide 24-hour emergency care to the acutely injured at the Hôpital de l’Université d’État d’Haiti (HUEH), a 700-bed hospital in Port-au-Prince. HUEH was badly damaged in the earthquake and many local health care professionals were missing. We were able to save thousands of lives through emergency and trauma care in the critical days following the earthquake.
At the height of emergency operations at the hospital, International Medical Corps treated approximately 1,000 patients per day. Our early entry also gave us the foundation to rapidly expand our operations to 15 mobile clinics throughout Haiti to provide critical services. Through the hospital and mobile and fixed clinics, International Medical Corps teams provided more than 110,000 patient consultations during the first year following the emergency.
When reports of acute diarrhoea emerged from the north of Haiti in October 2010, International Medical Corps doctors and nurses immediately deployed to the region providing emergency relief for the growing cholera crisis. Our network of rapidly constructed cholera treatment centres, supported by 820 community health volunteers to educate communities on how to prevent and identify cholera, meant that more than 30,000 cholera patients received life-saving treatment within the first year following the outbreak.
International Medical Corps was among the first organisations to enter Libya once the conflict began in February 2011, providing emergency medical care to casualties from the fighting and support to hospitals with medical staff and supplies. Among the first challenges our Emergency Response Teams encountered was a chronic shortage of nurses, as thousands of foreign nurses had fled the country. In partnership with the Jordan Health Aid Society, International Medical Corps immediately deployed volunteer nurses to health centres across eastern Libya moving them to towns and cities throughout the country as access permitted. Volunteer nurses trained the local counterparts while working alongside them.
At the country’s borders and within Libya, we supplied those displaced by the fighting with essential relief items, including blankets, bottled water and food. Recognising the danger posed by communicable diseases, our sanitation and hygiene specialists constructed latrines and washing stations in transit camps along the Tunisia borders.
As the fighting went on International Medical Corps worked as close to the front line as possible, providing emergency treatment to those injured in the conflict, and medicines and supplies to besieged towns and cities. In Misurata, inaccessible by road, we evacuated nearly 500 injured civilians by boat. International Medical Corps’ mobile field hospitals treated the wounded from battles in Tripoli, the Western Mountains, Bani Walid, Sabha, Jufrah and Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte.
International Medical Corps mobilized an emergency response in Mali in January 2013 after rebel armed forces from the north began moving south, triggering French military intervention. In Timbuktu, which had spent months under the control of armed Islamist rebel our team were amongst the first international organisations to arrive and found pillaged clinics, missing medical personnel and damaged health infrastructure.
We immediately began supporting eight strategically targeted health clinics in remote areas around Timbuktu, where the Malian Ministry of Health has been unable to maintain adequate services to local communities. By providing medicines, training staff and recruiting qualified doctors and nurses, we can ensure local people will now have access to basic primary and secondary health care for the first time in months
True to our mission to build self reliance, International Medical Corps is also already training community health workers to go out to local markets and spread essential hygiene, reproductive health and nutrition messages. We are also working to rehabilitate clinics damaged during the conflict, by building or repairing latrines, water systems, solar panel systems and other infrastructure repairs, enabling health workers to have stable and well-equipped facilities to help the people of Mali.
Basanti, a young mother of two in Nepal, returned home from fetching water for her family to find her 8-month old son Bishal had fallen into the open cooking fire. Basanti was in shock, but she wrapped her baby in blankets and ran for help. No one in their village or at the local health post knew what to do so she had to travel more than six hours by bus to seek emergency care at the closest hospital. The district hospital could only stabilize Bishal and wasn’t able to treat his wounds properly. As a result, his little fingers contracted into a fist as the burned skin contracted and “healed” over the coming year, making it impossible for him to use his hand. His cheek, lips and eyelid also contracted and tightened, threatening his vision.
After selling part of their farm to pay for transportation to Kathmandu, Basanti sought further treatment for her baby. However, two hospitals in the nation’s capital could not help either. Adding to Basanti’s struggles, her husband abandoned the family, leaving her alone to care for Bishal and his four-year-old sister.
Thankfully, Basanti heard about the surgical care available through ReSurge International, our trusted partner with a 43-year history of serving burn victims. Dr. Rai, ReSurge’s Outreach Director in Nepal, and his team restored Bishal’s eyelid and his hand will soon be surgically repaired as well.
Even though it took more than a year for him to get appropriate treatment, Bishal is one of the lucky ones. Thousands of children never get the care they need to live a normal life after a disabling burn.