Maternal Mortality in the DRCMaternal mortality remains high in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), at 620 per 100,000 live births in 2022, despite efforts to reduce the rate drastically. The DRC has the eighth-highest maternal mortality rate in the world and is not on track to reach its 2030 target according to USAID.

International Involvement: USAID

USAID is one of the biggest donors to the DRC in regard to its health sector. USAID has created a plan not only for the DRC but other nations impacted by high maternal mortality called the Preventing Child Deaths and Maternal Death Framework, taking place over a 7-year course between 2023-2030. The focus areas for USAID are ensuring that the quality of health care is improved through using a primary health care system, targeting the impoverished populations who do not have easy access to health care and ensuring that leaders within communities take accountability for health concerns.

International Involvement: UNICEF

UNICEF has been actively involved in some of the success associated with maternal mortality rates in the DRC for nearly 63 years. Between 2001 and 2018, maternal mortality fell by nearly 40%. UNICEF helps to tackle the issue before it becomes one such as preventing common diseases that mothers tend to face during pregnancy. UNICEF works closely with other international organizations such as Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality (EPMM) to ensure women are visited and checked up regularly during the period of conception and childbirth, those delivering children have the necessary skills to ensure a safe delivery for both the mother and the child and ensuring that postnatal care exists for the mother and the baby.

International Involvement: UNFPA

DRC’s health infrastructure has been damaged by conflict and poverty. The high rates of sexual violence against women also contribute to health complications during childbirth, which could lead to maternal death. As of 2018, 42,000 women were waiting for surgical care in regard to their genital fistulas, which are caused by sexual violence. With the recent internal and external conflicts happening especially in Eastern DRC, more women are in vulnerable positions than ever before.

The United Nations Population Fund, or UNFPA is a U.N. agency that aims to tackle reproductive and maternal health globally. UNFPA has worked in the DRC since 1978. In 2021, UNFPA was able to help provide almost 700 fistula repair surgeries for women. They have provided 6,800 life skill programs for girls and helped prevent 4,932 child, early and forced marriages. UNFPA has continuously supported Congolese women who suffer from different difficult situations that have contributed to maternal mortality.

Many international organizations and agencies have been working in the DRC to help out a vulnerable population who do not get protection from different forms of violence due to poverty and conflict. With continuous and hopefully increased support from other agencies, maternal mortality rates will decrease soon.

– Christelle Wealth-Mukendi
Photo: Flickr

the-impact-of-diamond-mining-in-the-democratic-republic-of-congoIn the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) many adults and children work in the diamond mines. Children as young as 6 are forced to give up their education and work for long hours in the mines. Diamond mining in the DRC has caused harsh living conditions and poverty for its citizens.

Process of Diamond Mining in the DRC

Miners work in artisanal mines and small-scale mines where the use of machinery is rare and in most cases nonexistent. Miners have to dig through layers of dirt, rock and gravel up to 50 feet deep to find the location of the diamonds. They then have to wash and sift through it to find any remnants of diamonds.

The miners’ bosses then take the diamonds and the Congolese people only receive a small portion back. In 2004, the DRC mined a total of $1 billion in worth, its treasury department only saw $40 million of it.

Impact on People

Because of the harsh conditions of diamond mining and the little pay it provides to the workers, much of the Democratic Republic of Congo is in poverty. According to UNICEF, the DRC contains over 50% of Africa’s water reserves, but 33 million people in rural areas do not have access to potable water.

In the village of Tshikapa, the cost of food is very high because people turn to diamond mining over agricultural farming, leaving the fields with no workers, according to the Time. The roads are unpaved and many can’t even visit a doctor because the price is too high. Hundreds of those miners each year die in drowning or tragic accidents because of the workplace environment that has no safety regulations.

On June 9, 2022, a collapse in one of the artisanal mining wells occurred killing six people in total. Because they often dig these wells by hand and have no safety precautions, people often die mining diamonds. Additionally, last year, a toxic spill from a diamond mine in Angola killed 12 people in the DRC, because of the pollution of the River Congo.

Environmental effects are very common as pollution of water sources and exploitation of water occur because of the mines’ locations and the materials needed to run the mines.

Helping the Miners

While diamond mining in the DRC negatively affects many Congolese people, there are organizations taking steps to stop these blood diamonds. In 2003, Global Witness, an NGO dedicated to ensuring the relationship between natural resources and the environment globally, launched the Kimberly Process, a government-pioneered safety certificate.

Since its launch 75 diamond-producing countries have taken part in this process and are required to establish safe and conflict-free export and import systems. This is one of the first actions taken to stop blood diamonds worldwide.

Diamond mining in the DRC has affected the Congolese people for many years. Many can’t access the resources they need to survive because the mines infect the water sources, environment, and infrastructure of cities in the DRC. Even though many of the miners are suffering in poverty, there are steps in place that are working toward a safer and more sustainable process of mining diamonds in the DRC.

Janae O’Connell

Photo: Unsplash

Serge Ibaka foundationBefore he was competing on the court and playing alongside NBA superstars such as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka was a child facing many adversities. Both of Ibaka’s parents played basketball in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, during the late 1990s. It was at this time that the Congo was going through a civil war.

During the summer of 2009, Ibaka began his career as a professional basketball player in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder. After achieving the status of a professional athlete, Ibaka’s dream began to shift. He decided to use his platform as an athlete in a way that goes beyond just playing a sport and impacts the lives of others. Specifically, having once lived during the war in the Republic of the Congo, he now assists children within the community and does so through the Serge Ibaka Foundation.

The Serge Ibaka Foundation and its Mission

Education remains out of reach for millions of children between the ages of five and 17 in the Republic of the Congo. This is caused by a large economic disparity between parents who can afford for their children to attend school and those who cannot. Receiving an education is critical for the future of these children, yet factors such as child labor, child marriage and pregnancy all stand in the way of children being able to reach a brighter future. Living in the Republic of the Congo during a war, Ibaka faced similar feelings of hopelessness. However, he was able to achieve his dreams, and through his foundation, he wants to help other children in the community to do the same.

Partnering with other organizations, the Serge Ibaka Foundation strives to improve the living conditions of Congolese children and promotes the importance of receiving an education. Ibaka aims to use his story as inspiration to ultimately demonstrate to children that anything is possible with determination and hard work. Rather than solely using his fortune to help the country from afar, Ibaka makes frequent visits back to the Republic of the Congo to interact and share his story with children.

Context and Aid for the Congo’s Situation

Outbreaks of cholera, Ebola and measles continuously claim the lives of civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This left the country struggling even more when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With more than three-fourths of the country living in poverty, various statistics suggest a difficult reality. For example, the Congo ranks highly globally for stunting, which is a reflection of poor nutritional health for children. The pandemic only made matters worse as the country struggled to keep up with the health care of civilians. Many parents also struggled to provide meals for their families.

In May of 2020, the Serge Ibaka Foundation fired up a COVID-19 relief program to provide aid for those affected economically by the pandemic in Brazzaville. The foundation, along with the help of the BUROTOP Iris Foundation, has distributed 80 tons of food to 8,000 families who live in Brazzaville.

Helping Toronto’s Homeless Population

Ibaka also expands his desire to achieve change internationally to other nations. There are more than 9,000 people living without homes on the streets of Toronto, Canada, and shelters within the area have been at capacity for many years. The COVID-19 pandemic has not helped the situation of homelessness; instead, it has highlighted the struggles that the homeless endure in this city. In 2020, Serge Ibaka pledged to match up to $100,000 of donations to the Fred Victor COVID-19 Emergency Fund in its attempt to improve the health and safety of those experiencing poverty and homelessness in Toronto.

NBPA and its Accomplishments

Serge Ibaka is not the only NBA player committed to ensuring those who are less fortunate are recognized. Players in and around the NBA devote their time and effort through charities of their own, and Ibaka has worked alongside others to provide these players and their organizations with support through the NBPA. Through this foundation, Ibaka works to help not only those in his hometown but anyone around the world who may also need inspiration or a change in lifestyle.

The NBPA is a foundation that aims to highlight the collaborative work that players of the NBA conduct worldwide to create positive change. The foundation’s main mission is to provide funding and support for the charities of the many professional basketball players who dedicate time and resources to communities around the world. Ibaka serves as one of the directors on the foundation’s board. Notably:

  • The NBPA has provided more than $500,000 in matching grants for players’ own donations.

  • NBA players and the NBPA have donated a total of $5.5 million for COVID-19 relief.

  • Australian NBA players have committed $750,000 to bushfires within Australia.

Serge Ibaka is also a UNICEF Ambassador in the Congo and has dedicated his time to organizing a plan that involves renovating an all-boys orphanage and an all-girls orphanage by providing the two with educational and health care supplies. He has also collaborated with the Starkey Hearing Foundation and worked to provide hearing aids to children in Brazzaville. Ibaka serves as a role model in his work and in his actions, particularly throughout his professional career as a basketball player. Never forgetting his roots of a childhood in poverty, he has vowed to inspire the children of his hometown and assist them with the necessary living conditions to one day soar down the court to a better life, just as he has.

– Nia Hinson
Photo: Flickr

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

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