Eastern DRC’s neglected crisis: deep scars after decades of war
By Paul Moraga
Lwiro, DRC, Jun 10 (EFE).- Experts have warned that millions of people are suffering from psychological trauma amid a scarcity of treatment after over two decades of war in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Doctor Daniel Baganda sighs as he tells Efe how many patients with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis he has treated in the Mutima psychosocial center in the town of Lwiro, South Kivu province.
“We are in an area where there have been many wars. It is a scene of continuous stress, with many factors that often lead to depression or other mental health disorders,” he says.
Baganda’s words contrast with the bucolic countryside that surrounds the clinic, but the area is also a battleground to over 100 rebel groups.
A lack of economic opportunities, insecurity and social unrest continue to push many to join armed gangs.
The Mutima center launched in 2020 and started working with a group of women from the towns of Lwiro, Katana and Kavumu. Psychologists soon discovered that almost all of the women suffer from a mental health condition.
“Some of the women had been raped in front of their children, or had had their children raped,” psychologist Donatien Bashagaluke recalls. “Others lost their husbands, who had been kidnapped by rebels to force them to fight in the forests. This was repeated over a long period of time.”
“There were also many people addicted to drugs or alcohol, who turned to these substances because they didn’t know what to do with their lives,” Bashagaluke adds.
HUGE NEEDS, FEW OPTIONS
The needs are enormous, Baganda says, but the Congolese state has consistently neglected mental health, with only a handful of hospitals offering treatment.
Mental health experts find it so difficult to find work that young people pursue different careers or move abroad.
As a result, there are only a handful of doctors in South Kivu province who, like Baganda, have the training to treat mental health disorders.
Baganda adds that many people suffering from these conditions are marginalized in their communities or kept indoors and forced to drink all sorts of concoctions.
The Mutima psychosocial center has deployed its program to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, where many of the rangers in charge of protecting the World Heritage site are in need of therapy.
The alarm was raised by the Coopera Congo NGO in 2019 when 82% of rangers were reported to be suffering from mental health disorders related to stress and trauma.
Their job to safeguard one of central Africa’s last safe havens for critically endangered species like the eastern lowland gorilla is not easy.
Some have witnessed the murder of colleagues others patrol remote and dangerous areas that are under the control of armed groups.
Lorena Aguirre, founder of Mutima, says that although mental health issues are prevalent globally, the effects of a war like the one in DRC are “devastating in people”.
“The human being is absolutely wrecked from within,” Aguirre, who has worked in eastern DRC since 2006, adds.