When a fuel tanker exploded in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) killing some 230 people and injuring at least 100 others – many with severe burns – International Medical Corps’ local team was immediately at the scene.
In the wake of the July explosion, International Medical Corps deployed a volunteer burn specialist from the United States, Dr. Burt Faibisoff of the Physicians Group of Arizona, to facilitate skin grafts and advanced care to survivors who remained in critical need.
A highly skilled surgeon who has volunteered on multiple missions overseas, Dr. Burt (as patients affectionately call him) came well-prepared to administer care for advanced burn cases. Since many of the survivors suffered large and severe burns that surpassed the supplies and equipment of local medical clinics, Dr. Burt came equipped with medical supplies and specialized equipment provided by a donation from Iasis Healthcare in Nashville, TN.
The explosion occurred approximately eight hours after a gasoline truck overturned, spilling more than 60,000 liters of fuel in the center of the town. The area was already crowded with people watching the Ghana versus Uruguay World Cup match, and many of them descended on the truck to collect fuel. One of the spectators purportedly had a lit cigarette, which sparked a massive fire and subsequent explosion. That fire quickly swept through the market area, with additional structures further fueling the flames.
Having supported the nearby Sange Health Center since 2007, International Medical Corps was able to quickly convert the existing pediatric unit to provide emergency assistance to survivors, as well as care for the wounded directly at the disaster site. Advanced cases were referred to nearby Uvira Hospital for follow-up wound and infection care.
In the weeks following the explosion, chief among the concerns facing International Medical Corps’ team was not only wound care and infection management, but the broader challenge of malnutrition. Many of the burn victims were so malnourished that they would not make good candidates for skin grafts, and would risk complications without a better nutritional status. International Medical Corps has supplied medicines and supplies specific to burn recovery and continues to source nutritional supplements to ensure continued recovery.
In keeping with International Medical Corps’ mission to build local capacity, Dr. Burt shared his expertise with local surgeons and invited them to take the lead in performing many of the surgeries. He also conducted lectures on pragmatic response to skin grafts and wound management to educate local health workers. International Medical Corps continues to provide ongoing support, medical care, vital medicines and supplies to the survivors of this disaster.