For the last three years, the Beni territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo has faced extreme insecurity. The uprising of armed groups has lead to massacres in Beni and surrounding territories. Rape, displacement, looting and other criminal activities have also increased. Locals from villages surrounding Beni have moved into the city—some have found themselves participating in unhealthy activities to support their families. For pregnant women, it means interrupted care.
In partnership with the Social Funds of the D.R. Congo, HEAL Africa is conducting a campaign aiming to repair vesico-vaginal fistula and prolapse on affected women of Beni territory and neighboring areas. Activities are carried out at HGR Beni (Hôpital Général de Référence de Beni —Referral General Hospital of Beni). Beneficiaries of the campaign are traveling from different corners of Beni territory, Lubero territory and neighboring villages. This is the fourth fistula campaign conducted by HEAL Africa in Beni, since 2015.
There were three objectives to the Beni Outreach.
- Follow up women who were treated during the 3 previous campaigns since 2015, by listening/addressing their current complaints related to repairs they underwent.
- Examine and treat new fistula, genital prolapse and other childbirth related injuries.
- Training of local staff (one local doctor and one local nurse will be trained for 3 months).
A short flight from Goma, HEAL Africa’s team began patient consultations on the day of their arrival. Many of the patients had been waiting for days, having traveled to the hospital upon hearing the news of the medical campaign. Although they were encouraged to go home, as not all could be treated on the same day, they refused to leave, justifying that they had already waited so many days—why leave when the doctors have arrived? The HEAL team rolled up their sleeves, knowing they had a lot of work ahead of them and began consulting. On the first day, 75 women were served.
Every fistula outreach requires a minimum of three critical staff members with different types of training. Dr. Justin, HEAL Africa’s CEO, is the obstetrician-gynecologist and fistula surgeon. Traveling with him are Pascal HABAMUNGU, an operation theater nurse, and Jean-Marie VAGHENI, an anesthesiologist and resuscitator. The HEAL Africa team connects with a local clinic who confirm that they possess the necessary equipment and staff to ensure successful surgical procedures. Assisting the team at HGR Beni are seven local nurses, and one doctor, Dr. Jeremie, who has recently completed his formal training in fistula repairs. (Dr. Jeremie will also spend two months at HEAL Africa Hospital in Goma, after the campaign, to fulfill his training.) The nurses involved in the campaign will be trained to provide postoperative care to the women receiving surgery.
In addition to the free treatment, patients will be given new clothes/fabric and food. One patient, Masika YOHALI, like most of the patients, can’t afford transport fees, so she walked to Beni from her village of Mabutu. HEAL Africa partner, FSRDC, has stepped in to fund the cost after discharge. Another woman who walked two days to Beni General Hospital for treatment will be able to return to her village without compromising postoperative care.
Kavugho ENDA NI LUHI also walked from her home in the Paida quarter of Beni, but she didn’t come to seek treatment. She had received her fistula operation during a previous campaign and came to express her gratitude to the team for healing her.
“I could not help coming to meet Dr. Justin and his team so that I tell them how grateful I am for the treatment I got. I suffered for 20 years and tried different treatments. The only one that healed me was done free of charge.”
The Grand-Nord side of North Kivu province has been increasingly volatile over the past few years. Whole populations are displaced. Men who are killed have left behind widows and orphans with no means to survive. Because local customs do not prioritize educating women, widows are unable to respond to their family needs. Although most fistulas are a result of obstetric complications, a growing number of vesico-vaginal fistula cases have been caused by rape in conflict. While HEAL Africa, with the support of its partners like FSRDC, have been able to improve the conditions of women in desperate need, the needs will continue to grow until security is restored in the region.