What’s Next for Health in DRC?
What’s Next for Health in DRC?
Before the civil war in the late 1990s, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had a large network of clinics and health facilities. But decades of conflict weakened a fragile health system and robbed this resource-rich country of its potential to become one of sub-Saharan Africa’s wealthiest nations. By 2010, 70 to 80 percent of Congolese people had little or no access to healthcare, and the country suffered from a lack of basic security, communication systems, power, clean water, and transportation. Exacerbated by a dearth of health providers, essential medicines and nutritious foods, the country’s maternal, infant, and child mortality rates rose to some of the highest in the world.
I’m in the U.S. this week to share my experiences working side-by-side with the Congolese government and partners on the Integrated Health Project (IHP), funded by USAID and implemented by Management Sciences for Health (MSH) and its partners, International Rescue Committee and Overseas Strategic Consulting, Inc. The aim of IHP was to rebuild and strengthen the health system and improve health across 78 health zones in the country. In five years, IHP improved health services for more than 13 million people – 17 percent of the Congolese population.
A focused approach to integration and sustainable improvement has been critical for the incredible successes we have seen through IHP. The project also focused on empowering each individual, community, health care provider, facility, and province to take on its own active role in the health system, building the ownership required for long-lasting change. It is this approach that ignited a chain reaction across the country, impacting the health system across multiple levels.
IHP made significant improvements in increasing facility-based health care services and products, improving quality health care services, and increasing knowledge, attitudes, and practices to support health-seeking behaviors in targeted health zones. Working hand-in-hand with the Congolese Ministry of Health, the project strengthened leadership, management, and governance of the health sector across health zones and communities.
The project helped improve family planning interventions, which in turn decreased unwanted pregnancies and reduced maternal deaths. It also helped increase the number of children accessing malaria and pneumonia treatment at the community level. The number of women attending antenatal care visits also increased since the project started.
We must continue to support our Congolese partners through funding and resources as the country still faces many challenges. Sustainable change requires training and development of local partners and resources. Government spending on health has continued to increase over the years as the DRC continues to invest in the health of its people. As the country continues to develop and stabilize, with help, it will be able to work toward meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, which include maternal and child health. Now more than ever, it is clear that stable economies and stable governance are key to healthy people.