Expanding Internet Access in the DRCIn today’s digital age, the internet is a norm in many people’s lives, as nearly 4.66 billion active internet users exist worldwide. People use the internet for communication, research, gaming and e-commerce. Yet, most citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have no access whatsoever to the internet. Only about 20 million people out of 100 million people living in the DRC have access to the internet. However, changes are occurring in the DRC. Nearly 9 million people in the last few years have gained access to the internet due to technology companies investing in the development of the internet in the DRC. Likewise, Liquid Intelligent Technologies (LIT) and Facebook are partnering to build a massive fiber network in the DRC. Here is some information about how they are expanding internet access in the DRC.

How LIT is Expanding Internet Access in the DRC

Liquid Intelligent Technologies plans on building a 2,000-kilometer-long fiber-optic cable network from the DRC to the Atlantic Ocean. From there, it will connect with the 2Africa submarine cable system, which Facebook has a major role in developing.

On completion, the undersea cable network will better connect the DRC to Europe and the Middle East. It will help complete LIT’s two-year-long project to build a vast digital pathway from the Atlantic Ocean connecting to East Africa and the Indian Ocean, where millions of people would gain access to the internet. In addition, it will bridge the democratic republic with its neighboring countries of Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia.

Facebook has invested in this operation and helped plan the fiber network, but LIT will be the company to build and own the fibre network. It also plans to provide internet service providers and services to network operators to take advantage of the fibre network. Thus, the company estimates that nearly 30 million people in the DRC will gain access to the internet.

However, the effort that is necessary will not be easy. “This is one of the most difficult fibre builds ever undertaken, crossing more than 2,000 km of some of the most challenging terrain in the world,” said Nic Rudnick, CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies. To help build the network, LIT will hire nearly 5,000 locals from communities in the Congo, employing many people and families in the DRC.

Why Internet Access in the Congo is Nonexistent

Government policies on censorship and high Wi-Fi costs ensure that the Congolese have no access to the internet. The government passed a censorship policy in 2002, called law No. 013/2002, which has the power to control telecommunications in the DRC. It grants the government the power to control telecommunications to defend the public or in the interest of national security. If telecommunication companies don’t comply with this law, they risk getting their operating licenses terminated. This forces many ISPs to shut off the internet.

Due to manipulation of this law, the Democratic Republic of Congo has cut off the internet, text-messaging services and social media services multiple times such as Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp to stifle civil and peaceful protests occurring in the country. In addition, the country is suffering economically as it is losing $2 million every day due to the termination of internet services.

Buying one gigabyte of mobile broadband data in the DRC costs a staggering 26% of monthly income. This makes the DRC the most expensive country to get access to the internet in the world because there are no rules regulating caps on internet prices. Additionally, customers bear the burden of high taxes on telecommunication companies. These reasons allow telecommunication companies to raise prices to an extreme.

Companies like Liquid Intelligent Technologies are expanding internet access in the DRC. However, the government will need to make changes in censorship policies on the internet, to ensure every Congolese can experience the joys of the internet.

Matthew Port Louis
Photo: Flickr

Mutombo CoffeeOver a span of 18 years, Dikembe Mutombo built a Hall of Fame NBA career that made his name synonymous with stifling defense and a trademark finger wag. In 1997, he established the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation with the mission to improve the lives of people in his native country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Mutombo also recently established Mutombo Coffee to revive the Congolese coffee industry.

Congolese Coffee

A major accomplishment of the Foundation is the construction of a 170-bed hospital in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC. The hospital opened in 2007 and was built in memory of Mutombo’s mother. The hospital services anybody in need, regardless of their ability or inability to pay.

While certainly impressive and commendable, Mutombo’s latest endeavor involves building a thriving coffee industry in the DRC. “Rebuilding” is actually the proper term to use when describing the DRC’s coffee economy. In the 1980s, coffee was the country’s second-largest export, providing approximately $164 million to the economy. Connoisseurs prized Congolese coffee and rain-rich, volcanic soils in the Lake Kivu region provided ideal growing conditions.

However, recent decades of conflict and instability, much of it centered in the country’s coffee-growing east, have decimated output. Many Congolese people live without the infrastructure needed to safely operate their farms and easily reach international markets.

Mutombo Coffee

Mutombo announced the creation of a new coffee company in the first few months of 2021. He has placed special weight on not only providing economic sustainability and fair wages for farmers but spotlighting the unsung efforts of women farmers in the industry. The emphasis is especially significant given the DRC’s infamous struggles with sexual violence. Additionally, his work is important given that in 2018 an estimated 73% of the Congolese population lived on less than $1.90 a day. As the chair of the international distribution company, Cajary Majlis, Mutombo partnered with the DMCC Coffee Centre to bring coffee from the DRC to other parts of Africa and Dubai. Mutombo hopes to extend the coffee’s reach even further.

Perils of Congolese Coffee Farming

The Congolese wars between 1996 and 2002 significantly impacted the country’s export industry. Coffee farmers were forced to make a dangerous journey across Lake Kivu in small boats to smuggle their crops into Rwanda and neighboring countries. Locals estimate that 2,000 drowned making these trips. Those who made it were forced to accept below-market value prices for the coffee out of desperation.

Fortunately, many farmers no longer have to undertake this ordeal. The development of regional cooperative associations with stable international supply links has reduced some of the hurdles. However, numerous challenges still remain. Grenades and mines lie waiting in thickets around crops. Also, more than one hundred armed groups, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Allied Democratic Forces, still operate in the eastern DRC. Abductions and kidnappings also happen with some regularity, putting farming families at risk.

Bureaucracy and taxes pose additional hurdles and can reach as much as 13% of a shipment’s value. This total is far higher than in neighboring countries. Frequent delays involved in moving goods across the DRC border can needlessly increase prices even further.

Building a Market

There is also disagreement regarding the optimal strategy for marketing DRC coffee. Some argue the product needs to be sold at the lowest possible price in the highest possible quantities to reestablish the beans around the globe and compete with neighboring countries. Others believe higher prices targeting the burgeoning specialty coffee market are ideal. Congolese coffee shop owners say there needs to be more emphasis on building a domestic market.

Mutombo sees promise in his native country and so do others. A partnership funded by USAID, the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, Catholic Relief Services, Eastern Congo Initiative and World Coffee Research committed a four-year-long effort to help Congo’s coffee industry. The effort led to 4,000 farmers exporting their own coffee, which Starbucks sold in 2015.

Financial aid is flowing in to redevelop the region, and despite the obvious challenges, hope is on the horizon. With Mutombo’s track record of success and the personal touch of a native Congolese committed to prioritizing people over profits, Mutombo Coffee seems primed to bolster a region hungry to rebuild and thrive.

Jackson Fitzsimmons
Photo: Flickr

Agricultural Sustainability in the DRCDespite the Democratic Republic of the Congo harboring the second-largest cultivable land in the world at 80 million hectares, food insecurity and malnutrition are pressing issues in a country that ranks among the poorest in the world. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) characterizes almost 22 million of the 89.5 million residents as severely food insecure, despite 70% of the employed population working in the agricultural industry. Lack of infrastructure combined with prolonged national armed conflict has led to only 10 million hectares currently under cultivation, leaving enormous potential for agricultural and economic growth. Agricultural sustainability in the DRC is crucial to address food insecurity and poverty.

The Joint WFP-FAO Resilience Program in DRC

A combined effort from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) focuses on the optimization of agriculture production as well as market revisions and improvements to reduce food insecurity and bolster a declining national economy. Improving agricultural sustainability in the DRC could prove effective in stabilizing a region with enormous agricultural potential.

The Need for Agricultural Sustainability

Providing direct financial relief to the DRC has proven both necessary and effective, especially in the wake of nationwide flooding in 2019 and 2020 on top of widespread armed conflict and displacement. Since 2018, USAID reports that the DRC has received roughly $570 million worth of direct food relief. However, direct relief does not equal sustainability and is a relatively short-term solution. The joint program from the WFP and FAO implements successful strategies to provide much-needed agricultural sustainability in the DRC and creates an important foundation for further improvements.

The Benefits of Cooperation

Promoting organizational cooperation and improving managerial structure has allowed for combined agricultural improvements nationwide. Since 2017, this project has reached 30,000 small farm households and stimulated cooperation that has improved organizational structure and operational capacities. This cooperation has allowed for the distribution of newer agricultural technologies and concepts such as improved seeds and more advanced tools to optimize production.

Increased cooperation has also helped eliminate local conflicts between farmers and has increased the total area of land being cultivated. The program has also provided 7,000 local women with functional literacy education, allowing for more female community engagement as well as involvement in managerial duties in farming communities.

Addressing Nutrition in the DRC

At a local level, the joint program has implemented enhanced nutritional programs to utilize the increasing resources. Increased cooperation and education have allowed for the growth of crops with enhanced nutritional value. To promote long-term sustainability, in 2020, the project utilized direct aid to establish 300 vegetable gardens, reaching 13,510 residents. The program also held 150 culinary demonstrations regarding optimal cooking techniques that are both affordable and nutritious.

Developing the DRC’s Infrastructure

Large agricultural areas such as the DRC rely heavily on infrastructure for transportation and storage of goods. The joint program has fixed 193 kilometers of agricultural roads since implementation in 2017, with 65% of the road rehabilitators being women.

Not only has the program enhanced transportation capabilities but it has also constructed 20 different storage buildings as well as 75 community granaries, allowing for the long-term storage of agricultural products. This enhanced storage capacity reduces waste from spoilage and allows product to be sold during favorable selling seasons, allowing for advanced agricultural sustainability in the DRC.

The Joint WFP-FAO resilience program in the DRC has made significant accomplishments in the country. With further efforts, agricultural sustainability in the DRC can be further developed to improve poverty in the region.

Jackson Thennis
Photo: Flickr

The Congo and Economic Decline: Conflict Escalation and The Need For AidThe Democratic Republic of the Congo, otherwise known as the DRC, is blessed with abundant natural resources, advantageous geographical trade points, and a booming youth population. It is also a nation struggling with economic and political tensions that threaten to tear it apart. Conflict within the Sub-Saharan African Continent is not new, as with many developing regions. Yet when it comes to the DRC, its current conflict takes on several different forms; from systemic economic mismanagement to tense ethnic divisions. The DRC has a series of underlying problems. Both its leaders and regional partners need to resolve should any progress be made. One key issue, however, is the systemic economic decline of the country.

As noted by a UN Economic Commission, economic woes point out several grievances against the current government. For example, they highlight the hoarding and mismanagement of natural resources and inefficient governmental models. The models focus more on federal power rather than balancing out authority to local government. As the DRC borders with conflict-ridden neighbors such as Rwanda and Sudan, it has to deal with incoming migrants and persistent border security threats. When analyzing the economic decline of the DRC, the direct implications on the current escalating conflict must also be considered.

A Flawed Economic Policy and Aid Agenda

One of the central weak points of the DRC is its flawed economic policy. The issues of the policy include the disproportionate distribution of natural resources, lack of adequate investments in capital and infrastructure and lackluster trade agreements. In addition, the DRC has a long way to go before it can overcome its systemic economic woes.

The DRC’s inefficient two federal government barely understands the complexity of localized economies. The federal economy and general stock market are important. However, local markets and financial growth is also vital, if not more important. For instance, while the DRC is one of the largest suppliers of natural resources such as diamonds and cobalt, it is one of the top eight countries struggling with hunger and humanitarian assistance deficits. Analysts argue that conflict and hunger are interdependent. This is due to conflict limits agricultural production and disrupts one’s income. As a result, it is increasingly difficult for economically challenged nations such as the DRC. Due to recent wars in the Eastern Congo and a series of political conflicts around its borders, the DRC has faced a severe brunt in its ability to generate ample economic income.

Violence and Conflict

Violence and conflict help contribute to the economic decline of the DRC. Ethnic violence, the spread of Ebola and high levels of corruption hurt the overall economic benefit of Cobalt mining. In contrast, it sponsored those who benefit from the current conflicts in the DRC. The UN Economic Commission found that despite an increase in prices for rare minerals, the DRC still struggles economically due to inadequate pro-poor development programs and mass unemployment. Nigerian economist, Dambisa Moyo, argues that the fatal flaw in international aid and intervention is a lack of focus on regional infrastructure projects, targeted educational and job skill programs, and communal credit programs. Moyo furthers that when it comes to the DRC specifically, the IMF has a history of giving over 700mn dollars to the developing nation, only for it to be eaten up by kleptocrats.

The individuals are susceptible to several factors that escalate conflict and increase the influence of conflict entrepreneurs. The economic decline of the DRC creates an environment most profitable for conflict entrepreneurs and profiteers. The mass hunger and poverty in the DRC feed into several factors that contribute to conflict. For example, corrupt warlords who prey on struggling workers to militias who target local villages further worsen the issue.

A prime example is the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group that has terrorized the eastern Congo for years and has brutally murdered over 100 people. The ADF feeds off of two main causes. The first is the lack of governmental authority. The second is the DRC’s insecurity, armed groups with murky agendas and the government’s failure. It is more important than ever that international aid groups take action to put a stop to mass poverty and the violence it causes.

Policy Reforms for the Future

Although the DRC is in a dark spot, the reforms of the government and international community can undertake to help improve the situation. First, the DRC needs to localize its credit lines and monetary policy. A big issue for state factions and communal governments is a lack of financial authority. Ensuring a gradual decentralization process will increase income flow and help legitimize local elections and state power.

The International Finance Corporation, a branch of the World Bank, recently started a program that gave small credit loans and financed new investment credit lines in local areas within West Africa. This initiative helps fund hundreds of small and micro-businesses and shake off the potential risks of debt or inflation. Another potential solution is to focus more directly on local infrastructure investments. Recent studies show the four most effective ways to combat poverty in the DRC. These include emphasizing the accumulation of job creation, macroeconomic stabilization, rehabilitation of key infrastructure and structural reforms for a healthy market environment. Thus, if the following reforms are undertaken, the aforementioned goals will be within reach.

Economic recovery, conflict and the developing world are difficult. Oftentimes, nations like the DRC must resolve a series of ethnic and political conflicts before they becoming a top-tier economy. However, the DRC’s leaders must be aware of the role its declining economy plays in the escalating conflict. They should also acknowledge the necessity of reforming key policy. Reaching out to regional NGOs, the African Union and working with international partners is a step in the right direction. Additionally, supporting bills such as the International Affairs Budget and Girls Lead Act also promotes transformative growth and provides essential resources and support.

Juliette Reyes

Photo: Flickr

CongoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo has one of the highest poverty rates and one of the worst healthcare systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country’s struggle with healthcare is related to many other socio-economic issues the country struggles with.

Healthcare in the Congo is not guaranteed for its citizens. This is due to long-lasting poverty and a lack of healthcare efficiency in the country. Since there are no hospitals in the Congo that offer free care, each patient must pay. Medical bills can range anywhere from $50 to $100. However, the average annual salary in the Congo is just $400, making the medical costs prohibitively expensive. And, in addition to 71% of the population living in poverty, the law does not require that people have access to healthcare despite their economic standing.

The Healthcare System in the Congo

Armed conflict has consistently damaged the country’s ability to improve healthcare facilities for decades. The lack of stability associated with the conflict has exacerbated the situation.

Per 10,000 people, the nation has 0.28 doctors and 1.91 nurses and midwives. In the Congo, the staff in the healthcare industry and the level of care have declined. There is no coordination structure in place to enable health worker training organizations to take current health system needs into account. In training schools, there is a lack of physical and financial resources. Patients must schedule an appointment with their physicians in order to be evaluated. In most cases, physicians see patients on specific days out of the week. Thus, patients must wait for lengthy periods of time to be treated due to the limited range of health centers with doctors.

There are currently 401 hospitals in the Congo. Moreover, small towns have limited access to primary treatment and, as such, many residents continue to struggle to access appropriate medical care. These hospitals also fail to maintain the tools and supplies needed to meet most of the patients’ health concerns. Because of armed conflict, among other reasons, hospitals often run out of critical prescriptions and materials needed for different services.

Plan for Improvement

The Republic of Congo has successfully developed a draft for a national strategy, Plan National de Développement des Ressources Humaines Pour la Santé (PNDRHS), with the ultimate goal of improving the medical staff development system, training and administration. This plan aims to expand the education programs for health workers and on-the-job practice to meet the community’s medical needs. It also aims to help motivate and encourage health staff to ensure their performance and accessibility.

Cordaid, a credible institution with significant experience in the Congo, gained a GPSA award for strengthening the consistency and accessibility of critical medical facilities in the country. As a result, hospitals and clinics have been able to receive new appliances. Additionally, Cordaid has successfully achieved upgrades to water pumps and prenatal care units for healthcare centers in recent years.

Overall, due to strengthened management, cooperation and investments in critical healthcare issues, the country has made significant progress in recent years. For example, the nation has been polio-free for four years. This is a significant accomplishment considering its scale and lack of healthcare facilities, and a sign of improvement yet to come.

– Rand Lateef
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in CongoThe Republic of the Congo is a country located in central Africa, right next door to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Congo River separates the capital, Brazzaville, from the neighboring country’s capital, Kinshasa. Both cities were formerly one capital under French Equatorial territory. After the Republic of the Congo gained independence in 1960, a series of coup d’états and successive rulers from 1963-1997 lead to political and economic instability throughout the country, eventually culminating in a civil war in 1997 and ending in 2001. The inefficient political rule that followed the war exacerbated the economic devastation of the country. A dictatorial leadership under Denis Sassou Nguesso began when he became president in peace agreements formulated in 2001. The political instability in the Republic of the Congo is necessary for understanding the economic disarray throughout the population. It is also important for understanding why poverty in Congo remains rife despite international aid interventions.

What Poverty Looks Like in the Republic of the Congo

Poverty in Congo is vast and covers all areas of the country. This is mostly because the civil war displaced over one-third of the population. The return of natives to a weakened Congo led to many facing poverty and disease from poor infrastructure and government.

Rural areas are affected most out of the country, as there are many people who do not have efficient access to clean water sources or sanitation. Artesian wells or unclarified water sources account for over 20% of all water access throughout the entire country. In addition, there is little improvement in urban areas. Much of the population, almost 1.5 million, live in unplanned settlements with little sanitation procedure or adequate housing throughout the two largest cities of the country, Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. This creates a difficult atmosphere to combat preventable diseases like malaria and various respiratory or parasitic diseases.

Another problem facing is the country is the lack of, and lack of access to, education. Over a third of the population never enrolled or completed primary school. Higher education has even less attendance, with only about 3% completing. This is mostly because there is a severe lack of access to basic educational materials. Also, many girls have little to no encouragement to get an education. This leaves half of the population out of school. This impacts the Republic of Congo’s human capital, which makes it harder for people to find jobs domestically or internationally. Therefore, this leads to a higher unemployment rate across the country. Lack of education leads to a lack of opportunity.

The Good News

The Republic of the Congo has been making great strides in trying to counteract its issues since 2001. It created The Future Path project with the aim of modernizing society as a whole. The plan also aims to industrialize the economy to help the Congo gain international footing. Increasing jobs and economic performance through large-scale building projects and international cooperation are the goals of the government.

The World Bank is currently assisting the Republic of the Congo with economics and societal development projects with 10 current national projects worth $451 million. The new Country Partnership Framework will help improve the Congo’s economic management, help create “economic diversification and strengthen its human capital and basic service provision, particularly in the areas of health, education and social protection.” Improvement of water sources and better sanitation is a priority of the government and also many initiatives funded by the World Bank. The World Bank is also financing $61.31 million in emergency COVID-19 funding to help combat the pandemic in the country. The current levels of poverty in Congo and the level of disease exposed to people exacerbate the issue of COVID-19.

What Needs to be Done

The overall gross national income of the country has improved by 50% since 2011. In addition, improvements in education account for 14% of poverty reduction as a direct result of improved standards of living. Educational skill gains and an uptick in the enrollment of girls in urban areas also attributed to lowering unemployment levels. This subsequently increased educational enrollment levels across the country. However, rural education slightly deteriorated. This is because the rural population with only primary or no educational achievement increased from 46% to 53%. This highlights how the government needs to focus the fight on poverty in Congo in rural areas. The government needs to focus on encouraging more students into education past the primary level. They must also reduce gender disparities in school to create a more holistic student body and future workforce.

Overall, the Republic of the Congo has been making great strides toward leveling its poverty numbers. While the current situation is not perfect, the reduction of poverty in Congo and the improved standards of living are miles away from what the country experienced in 2001.

– Avery Benton
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Economy in the DRC
On June 25, 2020, the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of Congo declared that the 10th Ebola outbreak was over in three provinces. With the rise of COVID-19 cases in the country, Ebola cases have also increased significantly as social distancing became difficult in medical facilities. As of August 13, 2020, there have been 86 confirmed Ebola cases in the northwest Equateur province. As of July 3, 2020, there were a total of 3,481 cases in the entire country. With Ebola and COVID-19 cases rising, medical costs, personnel and resources will heavily affect the economy as government officials scramble to contain the outbreaks. Here is some information about how Ebola has affected the economy in the DRC.

Keeping Inflation in Check

The recent outbreaks in the Equateur province are in remote areas, regions that are difficult for medical supplies to reach. The lack of access to these areas requires an increase in medical cost support, however, the DRC currently cannot shoulder the financial burden due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy in the DRC has been stressed because of COVID-19 costs and has been adjusting rates in order to control inflation. During the week of August 10, the Central Bank of DRC increased the key interest rate from 7.5% to 18.5% in order to prevent inflation. Despite the pandemic, Central Bank experts are expecting an increase in the economic growth of 2.4% at the end of 2020. This would be a downward trend from expectations at the beginning of 2020.

Tracking COVID-19 and Ebola

The DRC will only be able to contain both viruses if it can properly document progression and transmission. However, the DRC has more than 500 regions of difficult terrain that do not have access to basic resources. These remote, populous areas are unable to receive medical resources or be properly tracked. They have less access to electricity, medical personnel and resources. The economy in the DRC has exacerbated most funds in order to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that almost 13,000 people have received vaccinations since the 11th Ebola outbreak that started near the end of July 2020.

International Aid

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is delivering an additional $7.5 million in humanitarian assistance to the DRC for Ebola. With these funds and WHO’s vaccine distribution procedures, testing facilities and medical personnel volunteers, the DRC will be able to more efficiently combat these pandemics.

Additionally, the DRC is receiving a $363 million loan from the International Monetary fund, $47 million from the World Bank and $40 million in emergency funds from the United Nations to strengthen the economy. These monetary aids will go toward the COVID-19 medical response, 11th Ebola outbreak vaccinations and necessary medical facilities.

Conclusion

Despite battling two pandemics at once, the DRC has maintained its composure and enacted the proper medical responses with the resources it has. The economy in the DRC has suffered because of the new Ebola outbreak. However, the DRC’s mission and determination to wipe out the last of the Ebola infections are unparalleled by previous responses. The DRC is on track to declaring another Ebola outbreak over.

Aria Ma
Photo: Flickr

3 Things to Know About Hunger in Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a country in Central Africa. The country is extremely large compared with those around it. Through deduction, it is easy to say that the population is very large. Notably, violence within the country affected Congo. This, in turn, leads to higher rates of hunger. Below are three things everyone should know about hunger in the Congo region:

3 Things About Hunger in the Congo Region

  1. Congo has a population of 100 million people. As Africa’s second-largest country and one of the least developed, the DRC ranks very high on the scale for those who go hungry. The DRC ranked 179 out of 189 in 2019 for the Human Development Index. This is due to a large amount of violence and hunger that occur within the country. Because of this, the DRC is privy to the second-largest crisis in the world for global poverty and hunger, after Yemen. Of the 100 million people in the country, roughly 15.6 million of them are severely food insecure. Hunger in the Congo region is a large humanitarian issue — with organizations such as the World Food Programme (WFP) helping to end the crisis.
  2. Violence is a leading factor in food insecurity. Within the DRC, violence concentrates quite heavily. This makes it difficult for farmers to find enough security within their work to feel safe enough to go out to the fields. As a result, this increasingly causes food shortages. In 2018, more than 15 million people were displaced due to violence within the country. This large exodus leads to peoples’ inability to work and thus, money is practically impossible to come by. Due to the hunger in the Congo region and displacement within the country, some people are eating the raw seeds they originally would plant, to satisfy their needs.
  3. There is still hope for those in Congo. Though the circumstances are dire and may seem too bleak for a silver lining, there is proof of change happening in the DRC every day. Organizations, such as the WFP and Action Against Hunger, provide relief to these people who are suffering the detrimental effects of food insecurity. Action Against Hunger reached 143,749 people with its nutrition and health programs. Additionally, the organization reached another 52,279 people with food security and livelihood programs. In 2019, the WFP reached 6.9 million people with food and nutrition services. In this same vein, the WFP is now able to reach more than 7 million people, in 2020. Working toward stability to decrease hunger in the Congo region is a widespread and challenging fight. Though many people face displacement and go without food, with the help of organizations, it is clear that this future for Congo can be avoided.

Continue the Support for Change

The more international aid that is directed toward the Congo, the more people will receive much-needed help. Supporting organizations that give aid to those in need is extremely important, for this exact reason. The support will help save lives and create stability for years to come, within the Congo region and likewise, the effects can ripple throughout the global economy.

Natalie Belford
Photo: Flickr

Viral Outbreaks During COVID-19While COVID-19 has received much attention in the global health discussion, many developing countries continue to fight other viral outbreaks. This highlights why foreign aid is so crucial. Although COVID-19 has affected every nation, some countries will suffer more than others. This article will highlight three of the deadliest viral outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic that have been announced by the WHO in 2020 and the current, global efforts to combat them.

Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Since the largest Ebola outbreak killed 11,000 people in West Africa during 2014–2016, the virus has been successfully contained in most countries. This, thanks to the efforts of front-line workers and organizations, such as the WHO.

However, the DRC has been fighting its 10th outbreak since August 2018. As of June 2020, the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has infected 3,470 and killed 2,280 people. In 2019, the WHO named the viral outbreak a global health emergency. Then, in April 2020, just as the Ministry of Health neared the end of the countdown to end EVD, there was a new outbreak in the city of Mbandaka.

In the DRC, EVD has a current fatality rate of more than 60%, which is more than five times that of the new coronavirus or influenza. However, the transmission rate is much lower. Advancements in vaccines and “CUBE” containment rooms have helped stop the spread of the Ebola virus. By vaccinating more than 14,000 health workers in neighboring countries, the WHO contained the disease in the DRC. Yet notably, the organization stresses that controlling the epidemic requires more international collaboration and support.

Measles in Africa, South and Central America and Beyond

In addition to COVID-19 and Ebola, the DRC is also battling the world’s largest measles epidemic. Another of the viral outbreaks, which started during COVID-19 (in 2019) and infected around 300,000 people. Since then, the numbers are fewer in the DRC. In 2020 however, more measles outbreaks surfaced in Burundi and the Central African Republic. Additionally, new outbreaks resurfaced in Mexico, while Brazil still recovered from an outbreak of measles in 2019 that infected over 50,000 people in Sao Paulo. The virus has also emerged in Asia and Eastern Europe in 2019.

Similar to the new coronavirus, the measles virus has a high transmission rate and causes complications in a minority of infected individuals. War and displacement also contribute to the spread of the disease. In Burundi, the outbreak started in a refugee camp where refugees from the DRC were thought to have carried it into the country. Other factors such as malnutrition also contributed to the increased mortality rate of measles in these areas.

Yellow Fever in Africa

This mosquito-spread disease is endemic to tropical parts of Africa as well as South and Central America. However, the majority of outbreaks occur in sub-Saharan Africa where 610 million people are at risk of contracting the virus. Yellow fever has long been a challenge in these areas where it infects around 200,000 and kills 30,000 — every year. For instance, in 2020 alone, reports indicated new viral outbreaks of yellow fever in five African countries.

A safe and effective vaccine has been developed and helped reduce outbreaks in the 20th century. However, due to shortages of the vaccine and poor government implementation, the majority of the population does not receive it. Alternatively, it is usually only compulsory for travelers. Furthermore, since the virus is re-occurring, more research is required to keep adapting the vaccine to different strains of yellow fever.

The Takeaway

As evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, viral outbreaks are disruptive and have major economic and social consequences. Poor health reduces the life-span, productivity and life satisfaction of any population. These effects usually fall hardest on the world’s poor — who have less access to treatments or safe water access and sanitation.

Due to the commoditization of the pharmaceutical industry, the populations that need medical intervention most receive it the least. This is simply because they can not afford such expensive treatment. Specific antiviral treatments rarely exist. The best method to reduce the impact of viral outbreaks in impoverished countries is by building better healthcare systems and reducing poverty. As stated by Tedros Adhanom, director of the WHO, “Unless we address [the] root causes – the weak health system, the insecurity and the political instability – there will be another outbreak.”

Beti Sharew
Photo: Flickr

healthcare in the republic of congo
The Republic of Congo, also known as Congo-Brazzaville, is a central African country with about 5.2 million residents. Since most of the country is covered in tropical forests, more than half of the population lives in two large southern cities, Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. It’s one of Africa’s top 10 oil producers and has extensive untapped mineral resources. Despite this, The Republic of Congo faces high rates of extreme poverty due to economic crises from oil price drops as well as ongoing conflicts since the 1990s. The economic declines have diminished state funds and the conflicts arising from political unrest led to the government no longer prioritizing healthcare in the Republic of Congo.

This has created an inadequate healthcare system characterized by a lack of resources, lack of healthcare professionals, insufficient access to and inability to deliver health services. The Republic of Congo is currently facing high rates of TB, HIV, malaria and maternal mortality.

Steps Forward

Fortunately, despite these earlier challenges, the government began reprioritizing healthcare in the Republic of Congo with the help of various aid organizations. This revamped investment started in 2009 with a partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to reduce maternal mortality.

UNFPA worked closely with UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank to help the Republic of Congo government outline a maternal mortality reduction program. This program was boosted by the 6 million dollars that UNFPA made available to the country. In cities, free cesarean sections were made available as well as more family planning resources. This resulted in a 45% decline in maternal mortality from 2005-2012.

This decline was extremely promising; however, there is still much that needs to be done in Congo because its maternal mortality rates are still in line with other less-developed countries. The government acknowledged this and once again partnered with UNFPA in 2019 to further invest in a maternal mortality reduction program.

UNFPA Collaboration

This new program is focused on boosting healthcare infrastructure, facilities and services by utilizing innovative technologies. It is particularly focused on providing women in rural communities the best care possible. Some of the aspects of the program include providing solar power systems to ensure health facilities can function consistently as well as equipping midwives and doctors with portable ultrasounds and other monitoring devices to help handle high-risk pregnancies. Backpack kits filled with childbirth equipment are given to community health workers along with mobile phones to receive technical support if necessary.

While maternal mortality is a targeted intervention, the Republic of Congo has also done extensive work focusing on the healthcare system as a whole. This began in 2012 with the implementation of performance-based financing (PBF) with the help of Cordaid, an international development organization. PBF is a system in which healthcare providers are funded based on their performance and ability to meet specific objectives. It is utilized as a way to help introduce specific ways of purchasing that help health systems move towards universal health coverage.

PBF greatly improved healthcare in the Republic of Congo because it helps incentivize health workers to provide more and better care, such as assisting more births or providing more vaccinations. This, in turn, makes patients feel better and safer because their doctors are working hard, which increases the likelihood of people going in for consultations. More patients mean that rates for services will go down. Overall, with PBF, healthcare workers and facilities function better, and patients are happier and healthier.

While today, healthcare in The Republic of Congo is still facing challenges, it is vital to recognize how the government is investing and prioritizing the lives of its citizens. Creating change for the better is possible, and one must not forget to celebrate the victories.

– Paige Wallace

Photo: UNFPA