Merlin – A fast-working force for health in DR Congo

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Wednesday, 28 November, 2012

Healthcare on the frontline

A young girl is examined by Flavia Sinica, who works for Merlin, at a mobile clinic in Nzulu, Democratic Republic of Congo.Photo by Kate Holt/Merlin

AN EMERGENCY response by international health charity Merlin to the violence in DR Congo (DRC) has been staged in record time, thanks to support from a fast-working partnership project, led by UNICEF and UN OCHA.

Merlin has been providing healthcare to vulnerable communities in DRC since 1997. Right now Merlin’s priority in the North Kivu province is providing medical help for people caught up in the conflict around Goma, where the lives of civilians have been turned upside down by fighting between opposing armed factions.

Merlin’s first response was launched in Nzulo – a tiny village where nearly 5,000 people fled to after fearing that their temporary camps or villages would come under attack. The clinic was up and running just 14 hours after Nzulo was swamped by the influx of displaced civilians.

Straight to work

Despite the fact that fighting was less than ten miles away, Merlin’s staff soon got to work diagnosing and treating a range of conditions, such as malaria and pneumonia as well as listening to a torrent of distressing stories. Communicable diseases like respiratory infections and diarrhoea are common, as is malaria. There are no clean toilets or washing areas and no supply of safe water, which means that people are taking water from the nearby lake. This has already led to suspected cases of cholera.

Merlin was able to get set up so quickly thanks to the Rapid Response to Population Movements initiative which is coordinated by UNICEF1 and OCHA2, funded by ECHO3 and OFDA4. In practical terms, this partnership arrangement means that a team can immediately be dispatched to launch an emergency response. This work starts as soon as there is a significant movement of people and the first step is an evaluation of their needs. In Goma, the rapid needs assessment allowed Merlin to establish the right health services on the ground and plan the next stage of its response.

The planning and partnership has gone well but the scale of the situation faced by aid agencies in North Kivu is enormous. Not only is there huge displacement, but the population movement is fluid. Merlin and local partners have already registered 15,000 people returning to their homes in November and expect thousands more in the coming weeks.

"Time is of the essence when you are dealing with a population who are weakened by hunger, disease and fear.”

Re-stocking and ensuring adequate staffing of Merlin-supported clinics in Rutshuru, where many people are returning to, is a priority. Their health is poor and on top of this, people fear that their crops, livestock and even homes may have been lost or destroyed. Fortunately, Merlin already supports eight health centres in Rutshuru and will extend this support to cover the whole area, putting it at the forefront of the humanitarian response.

Merlin does not look only at the immediate crisis but considers the disaster in its entirety to ensure all health needs are assessed and covered.

Arthur Sarazin, Merlin’s Provincial Director for North Kivu, said the support through the Rapid Response to Population Movements work had made a huge difference: “The support we have had from UNICEF and OCHA, together with the determination of Merlin staff means we have been able to get off to a flying start. Time is of the essence when you are dealing with a population who are weakened by hunger, disease and fear.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

Merlin (www.merlin.org.uk) is an international health charity, saving lives in the world’s toughest places. Merlin responds with healthcare when people are overwhelmed by natural disaster, conflict or disease. After the immediate crisis, Merlin stays on to assist recovery – building resilience so that those at risk of future health disasters are better prepared. Merlin is a force for health

Merlin has been in DRC since 1997, providing medical relief in emergencies and working with the Ministry of Health to support and strengthen the entire health system. This includes a wide range of services in Maniema and North Kivu such as primary healthcare, treating children for malnutrition, providing thousands of women with family planning services and are supporting and training midwives to tackle maternal mortality. Merlin has also helped to establish health centres and mobile clinics in some of the country’s most isolated regions.

It is estimated that Merlin currently reaches nearly 900,000 people in North Kivu with healthcare. Merlin has been providing life-saving medical care to civilians to those who are fleeing fighting in the north of the country for many years, including treatment and support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. First-hand accounts from those who have recently been displaced in North Kivu can be found on Merlin’s website.

1UNICEF – United Nations Children’s Fund
2OCHA – United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
3ECHO – European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection
4OFDA – Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance

For further information and assistance please contact:

- Louise Halfpenny, Media Manager
T +44 (0) 207 014 1703, M +44 (0) 755 728 0026 E louise.halfpenny@merlin.org.uk
- Anna MacSwan, Media Officer
T +44 (0) 207 014 1735, M +44 (0) 709 238 2421 E anna.macswan@merlin.org.uk