The people of the Democratic Republic of Congo for decades have been living in a situation of chronic crisis. Violence, population displacement and the destruction of infrastructure and health services have devastated the health of the population. In 2001, Médicins Sans Frontières conducted a survey in five areas of western and central DRC to assess mortality, access to health-care, vaccination coverage and exposure to violence. High mortality rates were found in front-line zones, mainly due to malnutrition and infectious diseases. In Basankusu approximately 10 per cent of the total population and 25 per cent of the under-five population had perished in the year before the survey. Humanitarian needs remain acute across the country, particularly near the front line. Infectious-disease control and treatment are a priority, as is increasing access to health-care. Humanitarian assistance must be increased considerably, especially in rural areas and zones that have been affected directly by conflict.