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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 04:47 GMT
Death rate soars in DR Congo
Malnourished child in a hospital ward
DR Congo has a high rate of infant mortality
By BBC science correspondent Richard Black

The international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has described the health care situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo as "catastrophic".

In a new report, it says the civil war has dramatically increased rates of disease and malnutrition.

One quarter of children under the age of five died within 12 months
Up to 80% of families have been looted
17% of households have witnessed a case of torture
Up to 70% of people denied health care
The findings came as a conference on the future of DR Congo opened in Brussels.

Medecins Sans Frontieres researched the health of people in five regions of the DR Congo, including areas on both sides of the front line.

They discovered that in zones most affected by the war, adults and children were dying far faster than they would in peacetime.

MSF emphasised this was not due to people being killed in battle.

Instead, they said, it was down to malnutrition and disease, looting and violence.

In Basankusu, near the front line, 10% of adults had died over a 12-month period - a mortality rate five time higher than normal.

During the same period, a quarter of children under five-years-old died - again, about five times the rate in peacetime.

Earlier this week, a senior health official in the DRC said that bubonic plague, river blindness and sleeping sickness returned to some parts of the country this year.

The MSF report said that in one area surveyed, 80% of families had been looted - contributing to psychological distress - while in four out of five areas as many as 70% of people had no access to healthcare.

The report was released to coincide with a conference on aid and support for DR Congo in Brussels, sponsored by the World Bank.

Medecins Sans Frontieres said humanitarian aid should be tripled.

See also:

13 Dec 01 | Africa
Speedy talks urged on DR Congo
20 Nov 01 | Africa
DR Congo 'looters' condemned
01 Aug 01 | Africa
Congo's coltan rush
15 Oct 01 | African
Should DR Congo be split up?
30 Sep 01 | Africa
DR Congo ceasefire under threat
16 Apr 01 | Africa
UN alleges DR Congo exploitation
18 Jan 01 | Business
Congo economy 'ravaged' by conflict
30 Nov 01 | Africa
Timeline: Republic of Congo
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