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Nanni Fontana | Article 15: debrouillez-vous

Lita’s hospital, September 2011. The Ituri District is in the north-east of the DR Congo, bordering with Uganda and South Sudan. In 2011, DRC ranked again at the last place in the UN’s Index of Human Development.

Electricity and an ambulance. Drodro’s hospital, framed into the forest that covers the hills in Oriental Congo, has both these commodities, a rarity in this part of the world. This could be the picture of a lucky infrastructure but it’s not: Drodro and its hospital are the best example to explain today’s Congo, a puzzle where tiles don’t match or, more likely, are gone missing; in first instance the war, more recently because of a Central Power which at best is absent, at worst rapacious. The DRC is very rich of minerals but is also lying at the very bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index, 187th country out of 187. It’s not a coincidence. 
Débrouillez-Vous – fend for yourself – is the 15th Article of the DR Congo’s Constitution, the only unwritten article and the only one that everybody knows. Lona like all the other tens of doctors and nurses that work in Bunia, Tchomia, Lita, Mongbwalu, in the cities and villages of Ituri, the district along with North Kivu that most evidently carry the scars of the civil war, have to fend for themselves. They’re helped by international assistance programs that are slowly abandoning the region because the conflict belongs, officially, to the past, even though a recent one. The same have to do tens of thousands patients who are attended by those same hospitals and rural health centers. Not always, though, to fend for themselves is enough.

In 2003 in Lita, half way between Drodro and Bunia, the capital of Ituri, the Lendu ethnic militias have killed with machine guns and machetes more than 10,000 people, most of whom were of Hema ethnicity while many others were Lendus who tried to protect them, in the great Church and between the parish and the hospital. The health facility reopened only in 2008 while the Church, profaned by the massacre, has been rehabilitated to the cult in 2011. In 2006 and 2007 Michelin Kisai, pregnant, knocked at the hospital’s door but there was no one who could take care of her fetal distress. Both children were stillbirths. Now the doctors have come back and are taking care of her fourth pregnancy but the roads are still missing and so is the rest.

In Ituri, the war is finished in 2008 but its traumas have not been reabsorbed. Infrastructures don’t exist, electricity and water malfunction, there are no medicines, medical and laboratory materials. The staff at the hospitals, often working unpaid, is unqualified and unsecure while illness and violence are all too present. The first victims are women and children. Endemic malaria, high rates of HIV infections, gastrointestinal diseases, tuberculosis and malnutrition. A tragic scenario, fueled by the cultural limitations that delay access to health facilities, and by the direct and indirect effects of the conflict such as hundreds of orphans and the rise of rape, a weapon of war converted by ex-militiamen and by connivance into a peace practice.
(Text: Alberto D’Argenzio. This reportage was realized on behalf of IMAGINE ONLUS)

Pili-Pili gold mine, September 2011. Besides the ceasefire, rebels’ militias have continued to loot, to rape and to ethnic cleansing. Huge mineral resources – copper, gold, diamonds and coltan – have been the trigger of a civil war that lasted two decades.

Manioca fields outside Lita, September 2011. The hospital in Lita is run by the Caritas and is the only real health facility in this rural area, serving 21 villages and 135.000 people among whom 25.000 are young women and 20.000 are children below the age of five.

September 2011. In 2003, Lita was the theater of one of the biggest massacre occurred during the war. Lendu’s militias killed with machine guns and machetes 10.000 people, more than 3.000 people inside the Church which has been rehabilitated to the cult only in 2011.

Outside Lita’s great Church, September 2011. Lita’s women started gathering again outside the church after it was rehabilitated in 2011 to discuss, organize their work, exchange tools and collect money they need for small public utility projects they implement.

Lita’s hospital, September 2011. The hospital was built after the war. The medical staff has been stably working here only from 2008. There’s running water but there’s no electricity. In June 2011 a fire destroyed the maternity ward which is now under reconstruction.

Mongbwalu’s hospital, September 2011. It was built by the Belgian as a health center for the employees of Okimo, the company that used to exploit the rich soil of that area.

Bunia’s Department of Pediatrics, September 2011. The majority of children in care is suffering from severe malaria. Child mortality is close to 3.5%. The most common disease are malaria, respiratory infections and tuberculosis.

Tchomia’s hospital, September 2011. Running water is supplied from the same pump that serves the community while to clean the premises Lake Albert’s or rainwater is used. Many problems are related to structural damage to buildings caused by the earthquake of May 2010.

Muzi Pela’s Orphanage, September 2011. Most of the children were abandoned during the war or has lost the mother during childbirth. The number of children at the orphanage varies considerably, and the search for potential families for adoption begins after they turn 3.

September 2011. Sabé’s health center is run-down: no electricity, no running water. It’s situated in a clearing away from Lake Albert. The heat reaches unbearable levels, patients stay outdoor in the shade even to sleep, thus increasing the risk of contracting malaria.

Lake Albert, September 2011. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that “Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance”. The lack of facilities and medicines make the right to health a denied right in Ituri.

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