The humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains precarious, with more than 12.8 million people, mainly in eastern DRC, in need of assistance. Maniema Province, and especially the Kabambare health zone, have been particularly hard hit by the scourge of malnutrition. According to estimates from a 2019 humanitarian needs analysis conducted by the National Nutrition Programme of the DRC (PRONANUT), more than 55,000 children in the health zone suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM).
As a result of the socio-political crises affecting this part of Maniema, 60 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty, according to the Poverty Assessment Report conducted by the World Bank. Elisa Matisho, a 21-year-old mother of three, says: *"My husband is handicapped because of the clashes that happened here. He is at home and can no longer provide financial support for our family. For lack of other means, I treated my children with curative traditional plants, following advice of traditional healers, and their health deteriorated from one day to the other." *
Describing the situation for many in Kabambare, Matisho adds: "I didn't know what my children were suffering from and I was treating them alone at home, because I had no means to pay for hospital care."
In response to the severity of the situation, People in Need (PIN), together with Doctors of the World Belgium (MdM), launched an emergency nutrition and health project funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada. As part of the project, life-saving interventions -- such as free health care -- target the most acute needs of the most vulnerable people, mainly women and children under the age of five. The nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene components are being executed by PIN, while the health and gender-based violence response is supervised by Doctors of the World.
Beyond these activities, the PIN and MdM consortium is conducting a COVID-19 awareness-raising campaign by distributing posters in local languages and organizing radio broadcasts with information about protecting against the virus. Additionally, we are distributing soap, disinfectants, and installing hand-washing stations at health centres supported by the project.
Medical care for more than 20,000 people
Recently, the project reached the area of Maniema where Matisho lives. “I learned that PIN and Doctors of the World were starting a new project, providing free health care for children under five and for pregnant and breastfeeding women at our health centre in Nyembo,” she says. After her visit and medical examinations, her daughter joined the malnutrition treatment program, while her son, who was sick, received free malaria treatment and is already doing better.
Matisho and her children are among 20,000 beneficiaries targeted by the project for free medical care for pregnant and lactating women, survivors of sexual violence, and children under five years old. The project is being implemented in three health areas, which are Musongela, Nyembo, and Tchuki. It also ensures that the most severe cases, including children suffering from the severe acute malnutrition, are referred to the Kabambare General Referral Hospital.
Addressing COVID’s economic consequences
By focusing on malnutrition, the project seeks to ameliorate the wider economic challenges affecting people in the DRC. Ahmadou Mustapha Ndiaye, the World Bank's Director of Operations for the DRC, notes: "Chronic malnutrition leads to irreversible losses of human capital, which contributes to reduced economic productivity. Children who are malnourished in their early years have cognitive deficits and more modest school results. In the longer term, slow growth leads to a 10 to 17 percent loss in income over a working life. This leads to significant economic losses, on the order of 3 to 8 percent of gross domestic product."
The COVID-19 pandemic is adding an additional layer of complexity to this problem. "The prices of food are higher, so to find a good quality and balanced diet for poor people is even harder and we may experience higher rates of malnutrition, hunger and difficulties to pay for medical services in the near future," says PIN's Programme Manager Zuzana Brehova.
Since 2018, PIN has been carrying out activities to address persistent nutritional and health-related problems in the Kabambare health zone. In partnership with MdM, we assist the most vulnerable populations by providing free access to primary health care and nutrition advice, and by supporting capacity building of medical staff in health centers. We are also cooperating with partners and local and provincial health authorities to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control.
Author: Zawadi Izabayo, PIN DRC Communication Officer