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Congo-Kinshasa: better support for mine victims

02-05-2006 Feature

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, anti-personnel mines and other explosive devices continue to have a serious effect on the lives of many individuals and on society as a whole. Since 2002, however, there have been some important new developments:

  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo is now party to the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel mines. This means that the production, stockpiling and use of mines are prohibited throughout the Congolese territory. The prohibition applies to everyone, whatever their allegiance.

  • The Convention obliges the Congolese government to ensure the destruction of all stockpiled anti-personnel mines and the clearance of all mined areas in Congolese territory.

  • Under the Convention, assistance must be provided for the care and rehabilitation, and social and economic reintegration, of mine victims.

This last requirement is particularly challenging, because there is a severe lack of aid available for mine victims, especially in rural areas where a mounting number of civilians are suffering the effects of the many accidents occurring there. Improved access to medical care and physical rehabilitation services is needed in these areas both for mine victims and for the other war-wounded, and a special effort needs to be made in terms of social reintegration.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is currently the only humanitarian organization in the country delivering prosthetic and orthotic services directly to civilian and military war-wounded. The ICRC programme was at first limited in scope and restricted to certain areas, but it is now gathering momentum in order to meet urgent needs. The wounds caused by anti-personnel mines and other explosive devices have many consequences, such as amputations, serious disability and psychological trauma. The victims require not only surgery and post-operative care but also long-term physical rehabilitation and artificial limbs so as to be able to return to society.

To help these victims, the ICRC has signed agreements with four limb-fitting centres:

  • the Kalembe Lembe prosthetic/orthotic centre (belonging to the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and the Centre de rééducation pour handicapés physiques , both in Kinshasa;

  • the Jean-Baptiste de Kansele hospital in Mbuji Mayi;

  • the Shirika La Umoja rehabilitation centre for the physically disabled in Goma. (The last three facilities belong to the Frères de la charité chrétienne .)

The majority of patients receiving care in these four facilities are conflict victims who lost their lower limbs or were otherwise seriously injured by mines or other explosive devices. Those who have been amputated are fitted with prostheses, the others with orthoses, free of charge, by the ICRC. The organization also directly provides the physically disabled with wheelchairs, crutches and tricycles enabling them to regain some measure of autonomy and, consequently, economic independence.

The ICRC makes a special point of cooperating closely with local partners, using suitable materials and training local limb-fitting specialists so as to improve their technical skills.

In 2005 the ICRC fitted 834 patients in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, includin g 139 victims of anti-personnel mines and other explosive devices, with prostheses and orthoses. Of these patients, 437 were military personnel and 397 civilians.