Tharcysse Synga is the only doctor in the Minova hospital in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo. When the place was caring for scores of war-wounded and displaced people, he was performing up to 16 surgical operations a day, as well as having to deal with the trauma of victims of sexual violence.
“I have always been the only doctor at this hospital. Of course it is a little challenging to be alone, to do consultations, surgeries, ultrasounds, see all the in-patients. But during a period of war it becomes much more dramatic, because the only doctor also has to receive the war wounded and the displaced, many of whom get sick because they have walked long distances on foot, sometimes in rain.
When the fighting became much more intense, we registered many newly displaced people. Some of the war wounded were almost hopeless cases, for whom we could do almost nothing but be with them until they died. Of the others, we prioritize those for whom there is hope and treat lighter cases afterwards. It didn’t help that during this period, the nurses went on strike, while others left because they feared the fighting.
Before the influx of displaced, we were carrying out an average of ten interventions per day. But with this massive arrival of people, we were operating on 16 cases a day, once even 17. Given the limited materials available to us, we couldn’t cope with any more. We were even obliged to pressure the laundry room into recycling material as fast as possible so we could use it again for other surgeries.
When the fighting came much closer, it was very frightening for everybody, carers and patients alike. At one point some of the patients wanted to leave, so I along with several nurses had to carry them on our backs to their houses, where they felt more secure than at the hospital.
As usual, displacement brought other phenomena. When there is war there are armed groups, people who have few morals and who steal and harass the population. Here in Minova, we know of many cases of sexual violence.
Sexual violence is a barometer of war, because if there is more fighting, there is also more sexual violence. It is also a weapon of war. That is to say, one ethnic group will rape the women from another ethnic group, and vice versa.
Among many cases of serious trauma, we took in a little girl of six who had been raped together with her older sister, who died, and mother. The little girl had suffered a dislocation of the left hip and had to be carried by her mother on her back for over 50 kilometres. Imagine that. Since we had no traumatologist, we had to send her to Panzi hospital, in Bukavu, a journey of eight hours by road.
Old women are not spared either. One, a lady of 69, had been raped by about eight armed men. After raping her, they filled her vagina with sand. A month later, during the consultation, I found sand still in her vagina. Imagine the damage done to her body.
In spite of the recent ceasefire between belligerents, new cases of sexual violence are still coming in – 30 in December and more than 30 in January. We had seven new cases only yesterday.”