Poverty and malnutrition go hand in hand; People in Need are contributing to their defeatPublished: May 13, 2022 Reading time: 4 minutes
Poverty on the African continent increases the risk of malnutrition and related diseases. A worrying, long-term, unstable situation affects children in The Democratic Republic of Congo, where a large proportion of the population lacks a stable livelihood and is at increased risk of malnutrition. Furthermore, health care costs are also rising, and a vicious circle of poverty and ill-health in the DRC is deepening.
The implementation of a collaboration between People in Need and Médecins du Monde—with EU financial support—allows for the flexible provision of health and nutrition care for people afflicted by related maladies. In addition to the malnutrition observed in areas of ongoing conflict, it is estimated that more than 4 million children suffer from acute malnutrition. Children in the DRC experience acute malnutrition early in life—even during pregnancy. This makes them susceptible to chronic diseases, and their entire cognitive development is stunted.
Insecurity and poor nutrition harm the health system in the eastern DR Congo
Poor nutrition and health situations arise from a combination of factors. In particular, inadequate diets, food insecurity, the high incidence of diseases among children (malaria and diarrhoea), epidemics (measles and cholera for example), and poor sanitation—including the problematic availability of sanitation facilities.
"When the IDPs came to our village, food availability in the markets dropped significantly. At the same time, we have difficulties with low harvests. Pests have invaded our fields. This situation has caused one of my children to suffer from malnutrition," says Bahati Sifa, who has five children.
The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is also conflict-ridden. Armed groups often prevent civilians from accessing their fields and grazing their cattle. Women and children under the age of five are among the most vulnerable groups. They are most at risk from various health and nutritional diseases such as malnutrition, anaemia and others. It makes it harder for them to fight diseases such as malaria. Ensuring good nutrition contributes to improved health and reduced mortality while also helping to reduce poverty.
Between April 2021 and January 2022, armed clashes have resulted in a new wave of IDPs. Many of the people fleeing are heading to the Lemera health zone. According to information received in the Uvira highlands, 87,339 people were displaced in 2021, of which 3,271 individuals were displaced to the Lemera Health Zone. Thus, there are currently 22,949 displaced persons in health zones who are homeless and cannot cultivate their fields and raise livestock. As a result, children are malnourished, and women have become even more vulnerable. Some have even given birth without medical support while fleeing.
"I host eight people in my house who have fled the fighting. It is tough to feed them, but we are fortunate because my guests receive free care at the health centre. So my family, who is struggling with malnutrition, is also being taken care of for free," explains Bahati Sifa.
The project has improved the health situation of people in the Lemera health zone in the east of the country. The availability and quality of primary health services, not only promotes prevention, it also provides a rapid response to epidemic during population displacement. The project staff specialise in helping the most vulnerable, such as internally displaced refugees, pregnant and lactating women, and persons with disabilities in the intervention zone.
"Thanks to this project, my child is healthy again. I also gave birth to my next child without paying for care. We were all well taken care of by the PIN and MdM project staff. Today I am healthy, and my child who was malnourished and lost his appetite can take food without any problem because I followed all the advice given to me during the care," says Bahati Sifa.
In addition to the struggles in the Lemera health zone, other parts of the country are reeling from numerous measles epidemics worsened by low vaccination rates. The low number of publicly accessible health centres complicates the health of the at-risk population. People in Need operate in hard-to-reach areas where the population has complicated access to health care due to the ongoing ethnic conflicts. In addition, the country is now in its third year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the pandemic remains relatively stable in eastern DRC and the measures accompanying the elimination of contact between patients and health workers have been lifted, they are still being observed in all the project sites implemented by People in Need and MdM. Additionally, various awareness-raising activities are organised in connection to prevent the spread of the disease.