Delivering Medicines in DR Congo: In the Face of Insecurity

Delivering Medicines in DR Congo: In the Face of Insecurity

The convoy faced many challenges, including the rainy climate en route to Mulungu. The vehicles often got stuck in the mud, requiring the help of many people to get them moving again. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Sud Kivu province has been an area of armed conflict for many years, with various rebel factions fighting for control over the resource-rich region.

The continued fighting has disrupted health services --- which were weak to begin with --- due to geographic isolation and poorly supported health workers.

In the health zone of Mulungu, there had been no delivery of medicines or supplies for more than six months. More than 105,000 people live in the remote area, where health issues include malaria, malnutrition and anemia. In April 2012, the USAID-funded Democratic Republic of Congo-Integrated Health Project (DRC-IHP) deployed a team of health workers from Bukavu to Mulungu, to transport more than 2,640 pounds of medicines and supplies; 2,700 insecticide-treated mosquito nets; and 50 containers of petrol to supply cold chain storage units for vaccines.

Among the major goals of the trip: provide supervision to the staff of six health facilities; collect health data; support the health zone management team to vaccinate children against polio; and distribute the medicines, mosquito nets and petrol throughout the health zone.

Delivering all of these medicines and materials required an incredible feat of logistics, noted Freddy Salumu, the health zone supervisor in Bukavu who accompanied the 18-day mission.

Freddy Salumu, health zone supervisor, of the USAID DRC-Integrated Health Project. (Photo credit: MSH) 


“For the first 124 miles, supplies were transported by a vehicle and motorcycles, which were fixed with project banners to identify us as a humanitarian mission. We were lucky, because we didn't encounter any rebel troops. We had other challenges, though,” he explained, adding:

“Every season is rainy season in Mulungu, and at many points the convoy ground to a halt, with vehicles stuck in the mud.”

“Arriving at the first stop, Nyalubemba, the health center was stocked, data collected and the team moved on. From there, the roads were impassable. For the next three days, a team of 70 porters --- men and women --- were engaged to carry the supplies on foot over 36 miles to the central bureau of Mulungu. Foliage is dense, and often the human chain had to stop and wait for a path to be cut.”

“We encountered many cases of anemia, and we were able to provide blood transfusions with the supplies we had brought. We also vaccinated 1,042 infants and children. Of equal importance, we were able to provide supervision and training to health workers who hadn't had any support in many months.”

Plans are now underway for a second mission: to follow up on the results of health services provided after this round of distribution, and provide training and support to the health workers who staff the six facilities in Mulungu.

Led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), in partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Overseas Strategic Consulting (OSC), DRC-IHP is working to improve the basic health conditions of the Congolese people in 80 health zones in four provinces, including Sud Kivu.

Elizabeth Walsh is the director of communications in MSH’s Center for Leadership & Management.