June 11, 2010
Women and girls who flee the tribal fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo are vulnerable to another horror when they escape to the Likouala region in the north of the Congo Republic: rape. Organizations such as the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and Doctors of Africa are trying to help the victims, as well as prevent the spread of HIV in the area.
According Isaac Wadbring Madress, a humanitarian coordinator for UNFPA, the fund is registering "more and more sexual and sexist violence committed in these sites." He was referring to the 92 places where the refugees have settled, mostly along the Oubangui River. Congolese officials estimate there are about 120,000 refugees, all of whom arrived since October.
The UNFPA is working to "avoid complications" for the victims" of sexual assault and also is trying to prevent the assaults.
The private organization Doctors of Africa has been working to treat such diseases as malaria, diarrhea, and respiratory infections. Since April, however, it has sent support to its 15 clinics in the region to help the victims of sexual violence, according to coordinator Jean Florent Mbandza.
HIV prevalence in the region was estimated at 1.9 percent of the population in 2009, according to a national study. The national average prevalence, 3.2 percent, has declined from 4.2 percent in 2003.
Regional Health Director Palmer Mathat warned that if the sexual violence continues, the rate of STDs is likely to be higher in the next five to 10 years.
In addition, the Likouala region is seeing a resurgence of TB, Mathat said.