Letter from Shamwana, Democratic Republic of Congo


Dr Susanna Ericsson is currently working for Médecins Sans Frontières in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ongoing fighting between government forces and Mai-Mai militias in Katanga province has caused thousands of people to flee into the surrounding bush in fear of their lives.

The medical consequences of this displacement are severe with many patients now unable to reach health facilities for essential medical treatment. Pregnant women who experience complications during their delivery are particularly at risk.

“Our patient arrived early in the morning the day after we had removed all non-essential staff from the project. She was the first person to be taken care of by our emergency skeleton team.

She was 23 years-old, and came from a small village called Kilenge that has no healthcare facilities at all. The village is 25 kilometers from Kafumbe where there is a small health post. There has not been anybody working at the health post for a long time because of the fighting but also because there is a lack of health personnel and medicines in this region.

She had started getting abdominal pains at home, and got worried as she was already late in her pregnancy. She went over to her mother’s house and a traditional birthing attendant and a traditional healer were called for. For three days the woman drank concoctions of different herbs and the traditional healer gave her some physical exercises to do to get the baby out.

On the fourth day, the baby still hadn’t been born and her family was very worried as she had developed fever, smelled very bad and the pain was worse than ever. At 3am that morning the family set out for Shamwana where MSF runs a hospital offering free medical care to all.

It took the family 48 hours to reach MSF’s hospital on foot. The patient was transported on a bicycle, and 10 men and 4 women came along as protection, since the roads are not regarded as safe, and they were worried about an ambush on the roads.

Upon arrival at the hospital in Shamwana the patient immediately went into emergency surgery. A serious infection had already spread though her body and her baby had died. There is no doubt that without the surgery provided by MSF, the woman would not have survived.”