EU-funded health and nutrition collaboration supports thousands in conflict-affected part of DR CongoPublished: Aug 2, 2021 Reading time: 7 minutes
For the people of the Uvira highlands of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), life has been difficult for a long time. Since 2015, relations between the two communities living in the area have deteriorated significantly. Aggravating factors include the struggle for control of economic resources, the search for pastureland, alliances with foreign armed groups operating in the area or the weak presence of state authority.
Residents often fall victim to human rights violations and massive displacement due to ongoing clashes between various armed groups. Sexual violence against women and men is often used as a weapon by all sides in the conflict. Recently, hundreds of houses and several primary schools were set on fire, and health structures were looted. Outbreaks of cholera and measles have become endemic, and the COVID-19 pandemic further disrupted food systems, decreased incomes, limited access to healthcare, and increased the prices of basic food, causing serious nutrition problems for children under five and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Compounding these issues, this area of the South Kivu Province is very remote and accessible only on foot or by helicopter, making any humanitarian response even more difficult.
Health and nutrition response
To address these needs, People in Need (PIN) provided assistance in the Uvira highlands in 2018 and 2019, and in June 2020, the European Union began an initiative to support the humanitarian activities of a consortium including PIN and Doctors of the World Belgium (MDM-BE). As part of this intervention, PIN and MdM-BE are providing life-saving medicines, high-nutritional supplements to treat malnutrition, healthcare materials, and medical equipment in the Uvira highlands. One of the main focuses of the consortium is on providing direct medical assistance to survivors of sexual violence, and to internally displaced people. To help battle malnutrition, UNICEF DRC has donated PlumpyNut nutritional supplements.
"With funding from the European Union, we managed to maintain access to health and nutrition services in areas affected by the conflict especially for the most vulnerable populations like pregnant women or victims of gender-based violence," says Gilbert Bouic, PIN DR Congo Country Director. "In this context the humanitarian response is especially important as well as prevention and advocacy with local authorities and communities to ensure the protection of civilians and access to basic health services."
Augustin Bashombana, the nurse in charge of the Masango health center, says: "We live in insecurity. A few years ago, we had no help from humanitarian organisations and our health centre had closed its doors for lack of assistance and the area’s isolation. This led people to return to traditional treatments, with all of the related consequences.”
“The arrival of PIN in 2018 allowed us to relaunch health activities with free care for the sick, and our centre was supported with essential drugs throughout the duration of the project. Since August 2020, PIN has been working jointly with MdM-BE to provide complete assistance in the field of health and nutrition, with particular attention being paid to victims of sexual violence,” she explains.
Training health workers to help their communities
PIN and MdM-BE are currently supporting four health centres, and 15 health workers from these centers received special training on how to identify and tackle malnutrition, and on the role of proper water, sanitation and hygiene practices in nutrition as well as good feeding practices for infants and young children, including in emergencies.
Jean Baptiste Babone, PIN DRC Project Manager, says: “The health workers have been trained in family planning, emergency obstetric and neonatal care, post-abortion care, medical, psychosocial and legal care for victims of sexual and gender-based violence, and many other health and nutrition issues. They are now able to effectively help the communities in the area.”
Additionally, 20 community relays from 2 health areas have been trained in infant and young child feeding, screening and referral of malnutrition cases, recognition of symptoms of the most common diseases as part of community-based surveillance, and provision of basic treatment. They also teach women with children under five why good water, sanitation and hygiene practices are important for nutrition, and how to integrate protection with nutrition.
“As a result, almost 12,637 people, including 4,584 men and 8,053 women from local communities, were sensitised on topics connected with the prevention of malnutrition. Community health workers screened almost 9,486 children between the ages of six and 59 months, and over 383 pregnant and breastfeeding women for malnutrition,” says Babone. “In addition, 173 fathers and 593 mothers are now able to quickly identify children at risk by measuring mid-upper arm circumference and the detection of nutritional oedema.”
Support for the most vulnerable
Since the beginning of the project, almost 17,814 people have received consultations in health centres supported by the project with 1175 children aged 0-59 months suffering from severe acute malnutrition, including 555 boys and 720 girls as well as 75 pregnant and lactating women. Babone says: “The large majority of patients came for treatment of malaria, diarrhea, acute respiratory infections and severe acute malnutrition of children under the age of five. Over 1,399 children received a full immunisation package before their first birthday.”
Additionally, since 2020, over 2,776 pregnant women attended at least one antenatal consultation session and qualified health personnel assisted in the delivery of nearly 853 births. As part of the project, 86 victims of sexual and gender-based violence received assistance within 72 hours, and an additional 209 survivors of sexual violence received an appropriate response within three days. Altogether 209 Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) kits were distributed to victims of gender-based violence to prevent possible HIV infection.
PIN and MDM work is far from over. We continue to work in the area and apart from providing services the EU funded consortium will focus on promotion of humanitarian principles and respecting of International Humanitarian Law by all sides of the conflict.
People in Need (PIN)
PIN has been working in the DRC since 2008, helping hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Congolese gain access to education, healthcare, and other basic services. Thanks to its local team and close collaboration with local partners, PIN has been providing assistance in the hard-to-access areas of the South Kivu and Maniema provinces, where the organisation tackles acute malnutrition in children and mothers. As a result, some 2,500 Congolese children have been cured of malnutrition each year, and tens of thousands of people have been trained in disease prevention, which is essential for reducing the high rates of child mortality caused by extreme poverty.
Doctors of the World (MdM-BE):
MdM-BE has been present in the DRC since 2002 and fights for access to health care for the most vulnerable. These projects focus on primary and secondary health care, and sexual and reproductive health, mainly for displaced survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
MdM-BE works to build the capacity and strengthen health structures and local partners in order to improve the quality of care.
EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO):
The European Union and its Member States are the world's leading donor of humanitarian aid. Relief assistance is an expression of European solidarity with people in need all around the world. It aims to save lives, prevent and alleviate human suffering, and safeguard the integrity and human dignity of populations affected by natural disasters and man-made crises.
Through its Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department, the European Union helps millions of victims of conflict and disasters every year. With headquarters in Brussels and a global network of field offices, the EU provides assistance to the most vulnerable people on the basis of humanitarian needs.
For more information, please contact:
Martine Cote, MdM-BE General Coordinator, email@example.com
Dr Vincker Lushombo, Medical Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lucie Chubnová, PIN Desk Officer for the DRC, Lucie.Chlubnova@peopleinneed.cz
Gilbert Bouic, PIN DRC Country Director, Gilbert.Bouic@peopleinneed.cz
Mathias Eick, Regional Information Officer, EU ECHO, Mathias.Eick@echofield.eu