International Medical Corps is responding to an incident of mass sexual violence perpetrated by armed groups over the course of four days in a remote village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. To date, the organization has provided medical care for over 242 survivors.
The incident began when armed men entered a local village, urging the population not to flee by convincing them that they were only there to find food. However, after dark another group of armed men reportedly arrived, and over the next four days the armed actors raped women throughout the area. Nearly all reported rapes were described as having been perpetrated by two-to-six armed men, often taking place in front of the women’s children and husbands. Large numbers of women reported being physically beaten before the sexual assaults, and some reported abuse of babies who were forcibly removed from their arms. The perpetrators simultaneously pillaged the entire village and smaller neighboring villages, before leaving.
As soon as the security situation permitted humanitarian intervention, International Medical Corps deployed a local emergency response team to provide care for survivors. Along with local government health officials, International Medical Corps began transferring severe cases to a local health center in order to provide life-saving medical support and psychological first aid. To respond to a constant stream of injured locals returning from displacement in the forest, International Medical Corps immediately set-up a mobile clinic in the village. The organization is also providing medicines and administering ongoing care.
Although post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) kits for preventing HIV were immediately available at the International Medical Corps clinic, only two survivors had arrived at the health center within 72 hours of sexual assault, the timeframe during which PEP for HIV may be administered. For survivors who sought services within 120 hours of sexual assault, emergency contraception (EC) was provided. Survivors were also provided presumptive treatment for sexually transmitted infections, as well as wound care.
International Medical Corps also sent psychologists to begin addressing the community’s psychosocial needs, and teams will follow-up with socioeconomic reintegration activities for survivors and other affected and vulnerable people.
International Medical Corps has worked to meet the emergency health needs of conflict-affected populations in eastern DRC since 1999. Support in the Walikale Health Zone is funded by the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, making vital PEP kits and other supplies and drugs available to survivors. USAID is also funding International Medical Corps on a five-year project addressing sexual and gender-based violence, entitled Care, Assess, Safety, and Empowerment (CASE), which will enable further medical, psychosocial, legal, and reintegration support to affected communities. Working through its government counterpart at the Ministry of Health and the Central Health Office of Walikale, International Medical Corps is supporting 41 health centers overwhelmed with IDPs and vulnerable populations in Walikale Health Zone.