Inflammation and stories on Democratic Republic of the Congo

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in the Dominican RepublicSituated in the Caribbean and sharing the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the Dominican Republic is home to nearly 11 million inhabitants. While health challenges persist, there have been many positive signs of progress in the past few decades in health care, funding, implementation and education that have resulted in a trend of higher life expectancy every year. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in the Dominican Republic.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in the Dominican Republic

  1. Life expectancy in the Dominican Republic has steadily increased over time. The average life expectancy will increase 6.99 percent from 2000 to 2020 according to projections by the U.N. Life expectancy from the time of birth in the country is currently 74.15 years of age.
  2. According to 2018 data collected by the World Health Organization, the leading causes of death in the Dominican Republic are coronary heart disease (19.85 percent), stroke (10.65 percent), prostate cancer (3.57 percent), HIV/AIDS-related illnesses (5.45 percent) and violence (5.51 percent).
  3. Infant mortality rates have dropped dramatically. Between 1990 and 2015, the infant mortality rate in the Dominican Republic fell by 50.3 percent due to expanded health coverage and immunization campaigns. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified a priority gap for infant mortality rates of children under age 5 and maternal mortality. Infant mortality rates also decreased by 2.32 percent from 2019 to 2020.
  4. An increasing number of people are covered by health insurance. Between 2011 and 2015, 22 percent more of the population was covered by government-provided health insurance. In spite of higher out-of-pocket expenditures and gaps in services for a large portion of the population, the country is on track to universal coverage.
  5. There is greater access to safe drinking water. National and international groups developed programs in the past five years to improve coverage of clean and safe drinking water in the Dominican Republic, including the Drinking Water Monitoring System in 2015, which expanded monitoring in five provinces. On average, 86.8 percent of homes (urban and rural) have an improved water source.
  6. Natural disasters are being mitigated by better risk management systems. Because of its location, the Dominican Republic is ranked among the top 10 countries experiencing extreme weather due to hurricanes, tropical storms and seismic risk along tectonic plates. Since 2013, the incorporation of “disaster risk reduction” into laws and government systems has made the country a safer place to live, including Law 147-02 on risk management and the National Plan for Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management.
  7. Dominicans are more educated than ever before. As of 2016, the Dominican Republic had a literacy rate of 93.78 percent, up 1.79 percent from 2015. The mean number of years of schooling in 1990 was five. In 2014, it was recorded at 7.7 years.
  8. Greater attention is being placed on family planning and contraceptives. Around 99 percent of pregnant women in 2013 received prenatal care by a medical professional and 72 percent of partnered women used some form of contraception. Government resources combat adolescent pregnancies and promote family planning for women and couples. U.N. projections show the fertility rate (births per woman) declined 1.07 percent between 2019 and 2020, in line with yearly trends.
  9. Health services have been expanded to cover HIV treatment and prevention. Programs through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has offered assistance and services to the Dominican Ministry of Health for the past few decades to help prevent the transmission of HIV and offer treatment to those living with HIV. Between 2010 and 2014, the country increased antiretroviral coverage for populations living with HIV from 51 percent to 63 percent.
  10. Death by violence has declined over the past decade. Figures from the World Bank show that homicide rates decreased by 12.72 percent from 2014 to 2016 in the Dominic Republic. Since 2014, death by violence or other external causes has become a major concern, sparking the creation of public initiatives such as the Public Safety 9-1-1 Emergency Systems launched in Santo Domingo.

Considerable progress in life expectancy and quality of life have been made in the Dominican Republic in spite of new and old challenges to health and wellbeing. Data shows that in all these areas, overall improvements on the part of the Dominican government, as well as international organizations, have contributed to a steady improvement of living conditions.

– Caleb Cummings
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Sanitation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country located in Central Africa, has been the victim of oppression, colonization and enslavement by European nations dating back to the year 1890. Violence and war continued for decades as a result. The Central African country currently lacks some essential sanitation resources, which has led to the spread of diseases such as cholera within the nation. Part of this is because half of the people of the DRC receive improved drinking water from wells and public standpipes. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in the DRC.

10 Facts About Sanitation in the DRC

  1. In 2018, only 29 percent of people in the DRC had access to basic sanitation services. There is 42 percent of people in the DRC currently using unimproved methods of sanitation. This includes pit latrines and bucket latrines.
  2. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is an indisputable crisis in the availability of clean and pure drinking water. UNICEF reports that despite the fact that 50 percent of Africa’s water reserves exist there, there are still millions of people living without pure drinking water. In fact, more than half the population of the DRC lacks clean drinking water.
  3. Many people and schoolchildren have benefitted from the national program, Healthy School and Village. This national program aims to provide clean drinking water to villages in Africa to prevent diarrheal diseases. Waterborne diseases, like cholera, claim the lives of thousands of people of the DRC per year. UNICEF reports that as many as 7 million people and 983,000 schoolchildren have seen an improvement in their quality of life from this program since 2008.
  4. Women in the DRC and other sub-Saharan African countries are bearing the burden of having to deliver clean drinking water to their families. Women and girls in the developing world, such as the DRC, spend up to 90 percent of their valuable time collecting water. The women and girls in the DRC rarely finish their schooling due to this need for water. In the DRC, the participation of boys in the secondary school system has been 25 percent higher than girls since 2009.
  5. In 2011, a program called We Are Water successfully raised 20,000 euros in an effort to give accessible drinking water to the DRC. The program estimates that with the funds raised, it will be able to minimize the cholera epidemic. It is giving 20,000 people from 30 different villages clean water to drink and maintain their hygiene. This will only increase the efforts for creating better sanitation in the DRC.
  6. The U.N. Refugee Agency’s Cash for Shelter project has given funds to people in the DRC so they may build their own homes with real functioning toilets. Most people can only dream of owning a toilet because they are living on a mere $2 a day. Through this program, they do not have to construct makeshift pit latrines. They can now create a sense of security and ownership for themselves. Since its inception in 2016, the UNHCR’s cash-based interventions have reached more than 20 million people.
  7. There are many initiatives that bring clean drinking water to the people of the DRC like Concern Worldwide. It has provided the village of Mulombwa with its very own water pipe, which has revitalized the village in so many ways. Throughout its 50 years, this program has reached 24.2 million people in 23 different countries.
  8. The proportion of people drinking surface water, which includes contaminated lakes and rivers, was 11 percent, as of December 2018. The use of unimproved water sources like surface water is nearly universal in rural areas, according to the World Bank. Urban areas have 81 percent access to improved water sources, while it is as low as 31 percent in rural areas.
  9. According to the World Bank, access to improved water, sanitation and hygiene services is low, improving only by 3 percent. In urban areas, however, access to water, sanitation and hygiene services is much higher.
  10. There is a trend of constant outbreaks of cholera in various regions of the DRC due to contaminated drinking water. The infection can lead to severe dehydration and diarrhea which, if people leave unchecked, could lead to death. From November 2015 to February 2018, there were 1,065 cases of cholera in the capital Kinshasa alone, according to the World Health Organization. Of these 1,065 cases, there were 43 confirmed deaths.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has seen little improvement in water quality and sanitation services. Thankfully, people and organizations are consistently working on improving everyday life for the people of the DRC. Whether it be funding Congolese families to have a functioning toilet in their homes or building a protected well for an entire village, there are several ways these organizations can make an impact

William Mendez
Photo: Flickr

Aftermath of Ebola
An Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has infected 250,000 people and has nearly killed 1,700 people. The outbreak occurred in August 2018. The New York Times reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared this outbreak a global health emergency.

What is Ebola?

Ebola is a fatal disease that spreads through contact with a person with the Ebola virus. According to the CDC, “It spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from EVD.” One can also contract it through direct contact with blood and sexual contact. Symptoms usually occur within two to 21 days from the time a person contracts the virus.

The disease spread throughout the Congo and proceeded to enter countries such as Goma and those near Rwanda. This outbreak posed a threat to surrounding countries and the overall idea of public health.

Health care workers and medical team members in those areas are also becoming affected. According to data that the Ebola Response Committee collected, 157 workers have suffered Ebola and 41 of them have died. This means that 5 percent of the people suffering from Ebola in the Congo were health workers.

Since these outbreaks have been happening recently, officials are stepping in to launch infection control. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is receiving help from different global organizations in order to implement new infection prevention and control (IPC) training.

One of those training sessions consists of preparing local nurses, doctors and health workers on how to confront this disease. This is important because most of the local workers do not know how to detect the disease and safely isolate patients.

Efforts to Treat and Prevent Ebola

Weeks during and after the outbreak, WHO began to work with community officials to advocate for treatment for patients. This work consisted of WHO teaching and encouraging people in the affected community to recognize the symptoms of Ebola and to seek treatment immediately. WHO also connected with youth leaders and community representatives in order to collaborate with the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) about responding to the outbreak.

Other organizations such as Save the Children have been responding as well. Save the Children has been working with different organizations in the DRC to ensure they know how to protect themselves. The organization is also working with WHO on the ground to prevent outbreaks from spreading any further. Save the Children and WHO are doing this to reduce the damage the outbreak has already caused.

Save the Children sent out emergency health units to respond to the disease crisis, as well as partnering with the Congolese government on the ground to support its health facilities. It has trained many health workers and community leaders on how to address Ebola in their communities. It also built 15 Ebola triage points that will assist in detecting and preventing Ebola cases among children.

Many different initiatives within these organizations are taking place to help advocate for this crisis and bring in as much medical treatment as they can. As Ebola continues to infest the DRC, the surrounding countries and their poor communities, they will be in a continued state of a global health emergency.

– Jessica Jones
Photo: Flickr

Ebola Is BackA mother and her daughter traveled more than 1,000 miles from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to Uganda seeking medical help to save her child’s life. The nine-year-old girl from the DRC was exposed and later developed symptoms of Ebola on August 29, 2019. She was identified at the Mpondwe-Kasindi border point and then sent to an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) in Bwera, Uganda. Sadly, not too long after her arrival, the child passed away. Ebola is back in Africa. The situation is grim, but there are organizations trying to contain the virus.

Ebola in the DRC

There have been a total of 25 outbreaks in Africa since the first flare-up in the Ebola River in 1967. It has plagued countries spanning from the West to sub-Saharan Africa with a 25 to 90 percent fatality rate. This sporadic epidemic has come back yet again and bigger than before. This disease has surfaced in the North Kivu Province. It is considered to be the second-largest outbreak in history after the 2014-2016 outbreak that killed about 11,000 people.

The majority of EVD cases are coming from one of the 29 health zones located in Beni, Kalunguta, Manima and Mambasa. Out of the 3,054 EVD cases that were reported in September 2019, 2,945 of them were confirmed reports. Overall, 2,052 of those people died. Children have made up about 28 percent of probable and confirmed cases. Health care workers comprised around 5 percent.

Expanding Outside of the DRC

This 2019 case is different because the country is undergoing conflict and there are a lot of refugees fleeing to different parts of the region. The DRC’s political instability, random acts of violence and infrastructure limitations have also contributed to the restricted efforts to end the outbreak. As of June 2019, the disease started to expand into Uganda, with four cases confirmed near the eastern border shared with DRC, South Kivu Province and Rwanda borders.

Ugandan authorities have taken matters into their own hands. They strengthened border controls and “banned public gatherings” in areas that have been affected by EVD. According to the August 5, 2019 risk assessment, the national and regional levels are at higher risk of contracting EVD while the global level risk is low.

Vaccinating This Outbreak

The World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative of Uganda, Yonas Tegegn, stated that whoever came into contact with the nine-year-old patient had to be vaccinated. Out of the five Congolese who made contact with the little girl, four of them have been sent back to their country for “proper follow-ups” and another 8,000 were vaccinated against Ebola due to the prevalence in the risk of certain areas in the country. Overall, 200,000 people in DRC and medical workers in neighboring countries have been vaccinated against EVD.

With this being said, there is no official vaccination that is known to completely protect people from this disease. However, an “effective experimental vaccine” has been found suitable enough for use. Another option to combat this virus is a therapeutic treatment that has shown immense results in the early stages of the virus.

WHO and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network

WHO is doing everything it can to prevent the international spread of this disease. It had already implemented the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005) to “prevent, protect against, control and provide international responses” to the spread of EVD. This operation included many different concepts such as disease surveillance. Its designated procedures include notifying and reporting public health events and risks to other WHO countries, increasing risk assessments, considering whether or not an event is a public health emergency and strategizing international responses.

WHO partnered up with the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) to ensure that proper technologies and skills are present in order to help everyone that is in need. GOARN is a group of institutions and networks that “use human and technical resources” to regularly warn one another to rapidly identify, confirm and respond to international outbreaks. WHO and GOARN have been working in at least 40 different countries with 400 specialists. Together, they have provided aid to more than 50 events around the world.

Isabella Gonzalez Montilla
Photo: Flickr

Fight Disease in the DRC
With 80 million hectares of arable land and over 1,100 precious metals and minerals, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has quickly established itself as a large exporter in the lucrative diamond industry. Despite this, the DRC ranks 176th out of 189 nations on the UN’s Human Development Index and over 60 percent of the 77 million DRC residents live on less than $2 a day. Internal and external war, coupled with political inefficacy and economic exploitation, has hindered the country’s ability to combat poverty and improve health outcomes. Listed below are some of the most deadly diseases that are currently affecting individuals in the DRC and the different strategies that governments and NGOs have taken to fight disease in the DRC.

3 Deadly Diseases Currently Affecting Individuals in the DRC

  1. Malaria

The DRC has the second-highest number of malaria cases in the world, reporting 15.3 million of the WHO-estimated 219 million malaria cases in 2017. Of the more than 400 Congolese children that die every day, almost half of them die due to malaria, with 19 percent of fatalities under 5 years attributed to the disease. However, some are making to reduce malaria’s negative impact.  For example, the distribution of nearly 40 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets, or ITNs, has helped lower the incidence rate by 40 percent since 2010, with a 34 percent decrease in the mortality rate for children under 5. The DRC government procured and distributed the nets with international partners such as the Department for International Development, Global Fund and World Bank. In addition, the President’s Malaria Initiative, a program implemented in 2005 by President Bush and carried out by USAID, has distributed more than 17 million nets. UNICEF has also been a major contributor in the efforts to fight malaria and recently distributed 3 million ITNs in the DRC’s Kasaï Province. However, the country requires more work, as malaria remains its most frequent cause of death.

  1. HIV/AIDS

Among its efforts to fight disease in the DRC, the country has made significant progress recently in its fight against HIV/AIDS. As a cause of death, it has decreased significantly since 2007, and since 2010, there are 39 percent fewer total HIV infections.

This particular case illuminates the potential positive impact of American foreign aid. The DRC Ministry of Health started a partnership with the CDC in 2002, combining efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR, signed into U.S. law in 2003 to combat AIDS worldwide, has invested over $512 million since 2004, which has helped to fund antiretroviral treatment for 159,776 people. In 2017, it funded the provision of HIV testing services for 1.2 million people.

The country is also addressing mother-to-child transmissions. In the DRC, approximately 15 to 20 percent of mothers with HIV pass the virus onto their child. The strategy to end mother-to-child transmissions involves expanding coverage for HIV-positive pregnant women, diagnosing infants with HIV earlier and preventing new infections via antiretroviral drug treatment. UNAID, The Global Fund and the DRC Ministry of Health have undertaken significant work to accomplish these objectives and their efforts have resulted in the coverage of 70 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women.  However, much work remains to cover the remaining 30 percent of pregnant HIV-positive women.

Overall, there is still a lot of necessary work to undergo in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the DRC and around the world.  In total, UNAIDS estimated that HIV/AIDS was the cause of 17,000 deaths in the DRC in 2018.  While this is a decrease from previous years, it shows that the DRC still has a long way to go in order to fully control the spread of the disease.  Additionally, there must be more global funding. The U.N. announced on July 2019 that annual global funding for fighting HIV/AIDS decreased in 2018 by almost $1 billion.

  1. Ebola

Since 2018, the DRC has undergone one of the world’s largest Ebola outbreaks. On July 17, 2019, WHO declared the outbreak an international health emergency. Since August 2018, more than 2,500 cases have occurred, with over 1,800 deaths.

However, the country is making efforts to prevent the transmission and spread of Ebola in the DRC.  Recently, more than 110,000 Congolese received an experimental Ebola vaccine from Merck & Co. The vaccine is called rVSV-ZEBOV, and studies have shown the vaccine to have a 97.5 percent efficacy rate.  This vaccine provides hope that people will be able to control Ebola breakouts in the near future.

While there have been attempts to fight disease in the DRC in recent years, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and Ebola, each disease remains a major issue. In the coming years, the country must continue its efforts.

– Drew Mekhail
Photo: Flickr

Ways to Fight Ebola in the DRCThe Democratic Repulic of the Congo (DRC) has been ravaged by violence and a deadly Ebola epidemic. Thousands have died, however, there may be hope on the horizon. A vaccine and cure for the terrible virus may soon end the years of pain and suffering caused by Ebola. Here are some ways to fight Ebola in the DRC.

Ebola in the DRC

The Congo has dealt with Ebola outbreaks before and managed to contain them before they grew out of control. The current outbreak, however, is proving to be difficult to contain as there have been more than 2,500 cases. Almost 1,800 people have died and the virus is spreading fast. With cases having been confirmed in neighboring Uganda, the World Health Organization says that there is a high risk that Ebola could spread into Rwanda and South Sudan as well. 

Challenges

The main obstacles to containment are a mistrust of doctors and violent conflict. Unfortunately, violent conflicts spill over into clinics where doctors are attacked for providing life-saving treatments for Ebola patients. In addition, a recent study found that almost 25 percent of Congolese people think Ebola is fake due to a lack of trust and the spread of misinformation. Some people even believe that Ebola is a money-making scheme and a way to suppress voters. Unfortunately, distrust means many Congolese avoid formal health care and decline vaccines.

Potential Cure

Scientists have been trialing two new antibody-based treatments. The success of these two treatments has been so great that Ebola may no longer be considered incurable. The two drugs, REGN-EB3 and mAb-114, have both increased survival rates to around 90 percent. REGN-EB3 is a drug invented by the pharmaceutical company Regeneron. mAb-114 is an antibody that was drawn from the blood of an Ebola survivor.

Recently, both treatments were involved in a study to test their effectiveness in comparison with the current drug Zmapp that has a mortality rate of 49 percent. The two new drugs, REGN-EB3 and mAb-114, were both found to have mortality rates under 35 percent. Even more encouraging, the mortality rates for the two drugs drops to below 15 percent when patients are treated as soon as they are infected. A major obstacle in the fight to control the epidemic is that patients wait a long time to seek medical attention. The new more effective treatments could convince people to seek help earlier since their mortality rates are better than the older treatments.

Possible Vaccine

American pharmaceutical company Merck has created an experimental vaccine that has proven to be very effective. Merck uses ring vaccination to vaccinate those who have come in contact with an Ebola patient. Using this method, almost 200,000 people in the DRC and its neighboring countries no longer have to worry about contracting Ebola. The vaccine has given 97 percent protection for those who have taken it. The United States Department of Health and Human Services recently announced that it will fund Merck’s vaccine production, with a $23 million investment signaling good news in the fight to contain (and prevent) Ebola in the DRC.

– Gaurav Shetty
Photo: Flickr

 

Dikembe Mutombo's Impact
Dikembe Mutombo is most famous for his basketball career as a player in the NBA for 18 years and a four-time Defensive Player of the Year award recipient, but he is also well-known for his humanitarian work. Mutombo, born in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has spent the last 22 years contributing much of his time to helping his home country. Dikembe Mutombo’s impact has been significant due to creating the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Struggle With Poverty

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has faced a long history of injustice due to political corruption and economic collapse which has affected the country in a multitude of ways. Approximately 70 percent of Congolese people have little or no health care, and many hospitals and clinics lack necessary components to keep them running smoothly. Many health care facilities have shortages of personnel and equipment and frequently run out of necessary medicine and supplies.

Some of the top causes of death in the DRC include preventable or treatable conditions such as malaria, lower respiratory infections, tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases. However, in the last 12 years, child vaccinations have increased from 31 to 45 percent, and the DRC has been free of polio for over three years. Still, because 64 percent of Congolese live under the poverty line, they often have to make the choice between food and medicine.

The Dikembe Mutombo Foundation

Mutombo founded the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation (DMF) in 1997, in honor of his mother. Due to civil unrest, she was unable to get to the hospital for treatment and died that year.

This inspired Mutombo to create a foundation focused on primary health care, disease prevention, health policy and research and access to health care education. Its mission is to improve the health, education and quality of life for the people in the DRC.

DMF opened its first hospital in 2007, the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital, named after Dikembe Mutombo’s mother. It commits to providing high-quality health care regardless of economic status. Dikembe Mutombo’s impact has allowed the hospital to treat over 30,000 patients and employ almost 400 doctors and nurses.

A future project of the foundation will be the building of a Welcome House next to the hospital. It also plans to construct an elementary school with an emphasis on science and technology outside of Kinshasa.

Mutombo on the Ebola Crisis

Mutombo and his foundation have recently joined with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to communicate with the Congolese about the Ebola crisis. Almost a year after the initial outbreak, reports mentioned 2,284 cases of infection and almost 1,500 probable deaths, making this the 10th and worst Ebola outbreak that the DRC has faced.

The CDC began posting the public service announcements to its YouTube channel and on the agency’s website on Monday in some of the native languages of the DRC, French and Swahili. In the video, Mutombo describes the early signs of Ebola, treatment, preventative measures and recommendations. Mutombo told the Associated Press, “When there’s something happening around the world, it should be a concern of everyone living on this planet, and I think the epidemic of Ebola is touching all of us.”

Mutombo’s philanthropy in his home country of the Democratic Republic of Congo will impact generations to come. Mutombo stated it best in the Ebola PSA: “I believe as a son of Congo, I think my voice can be heard. Because everyone in the country knows my commitment to humanity and health.”

– Alexia Carvajalino
Photo: Flickr

Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo
With a population of more than 85 million people, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has struggled with political and social instability since the Belgian conquest in the early 20th century. More than 100 armed groups are active in the DRC to this day. The second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, where more than 1,600 people have died, rages against this backdrop of violence. Since the virus’s discovery in 1976, the DRC has had 10 documented Ebola outbreaks, including this most recent one.  Despite these grim circumstances, a group of Congolese tech-savvy youth has developed an unlikely weapon against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; an app called Lokole.

Ebola is a virus that causes fever, sore throat and muscle weakness and later progresses to vomiting, diarrhea and internal and external bleeding. Patients die due to dehydration and multiple organ failure. Developed during the West African epidemic of 2014-2016 where more than 11,000 people died, the investigational vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV is currently in use to fight the outbreak in the DRC under the Compassionate Use Clause since no one has commercially licensed it to date.

What is Lokole?

In addition to medical interventions, the Congolese Ministry of Health is seeking technological tools. Through collaboration with Internews and Kinshasa Digital, it organized a hackathon in March 2019 which brought 50 students in communications, medicine, journalism and computer science together. These students divided into teams of approximately seven members, and each team sought to answer the question: “How can Ebola response teams leverage new technologies to achieve their communication goals at the local, national and international level?” Thrown together for the first time, Emmanuel, Ursula, Aurore, Joel, David, Israël and Maria worked for 24 hours and emerged with Lokole, the winning technology.

Lokole is an Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) mobile application that is “designed to facilitate the real-time transmission of data and information between communities and the Ebola response teams” despite poor internet connectivity in rural areas. This team of seven chose the name Lokole because it is the name of a traditional Congolese drum Congolese people use to transmit messages over long distances. With this app, they hope to increase communication about the spread of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

USSD technology is a text-based communication system used by Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) cellphones, which are used in most countries except for the U.S. and Russia. Even though text-based communication might seem outdated with smartphones in the picture, smartphone use across Africa is less than 35 percent and even those with smartphones might not have access to data plans. As such, a real-time mobile to mobile communication platform based on USSD technology is inherently more inclusive, cheaper and more useful.

How Will Lokole Help?

The Lokole app allows community workers to note and document Ebola symptoms through questionnaires, which are then relayed to Ebola response teams and the Ministry of Health.

“Real-time management of information by the different components of the Ebola response will help detect and provide treatment to patients more quickly and deploy resources on the ground more swiftly, which will help lower Ebola mortality rates,” David Malaba, one of the app’s developers, said.

While analog in comparison to smartphone technology, Lokole’s USSD platform offers the potential for real-time communication without having to invest in widespread expensive improvements in its internet connectivity infrastructure. Lokole empowers the everyday Congolese person with the tools to fight Ebola. It is a democratic grassroots health care model. In fact, similar USSD technology which connects the average citizen with a nurse or physician in a matter of minutes powers large-scale telemedicine platforms, such as BabylRwanda in neighboring Rwanda.

The development of the Lokole app is exciting in its fight against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the galvanization of local Congolese talent is a game-changer. Hackathons that bring disparate youth together to problem solve big, often overwhelming, issues inspire others to pursue change. Lokole is just the beginning.

– Sarah Boyer
Photo: Flickr

Health care in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), once lauded for its health care system, is now a country with a lack of resources and access. In the past few decades, the DRC has experienced political unrest, war and military disputes, leaving the country’s health care system in shambles. Now, almost 70 percent of Congolese people have little or no access to basic health care.  Here are the top four facts about health care in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Top 4 Facts About Health Care in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

  1. Hospitals- As of 2016, there were 401 hospitals in the DRC.  Despite this, access to medical care remains sparse in rural areas. In fact, it is still difficult for many citizens to obtain necessary medical aid. Additionally, these hospitals often lack proper equipment and staff to meet some of the needs of the patients. Many times, hospitals run out of essential medicines and supplies required for various treatments. Multiple organizations recognize the gravity of this situation and are reaching out to help. This includes a health program from USAID, which provides more than 12 million citizens of the DRC with primary health care services.
  2. Vaccines- In 2018, The Emergency Plan for the Revitalization of Immunization was implemented with the goal of increasing vaccinations for children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This plan is also known as the Mashako plan, in honor of the DRC’s former minister of health, Professor Leonard Mashako Mamba. The goal of the Mashako plan is to increase the coverage of children vaccinated by 15 percent by 2020. This means that, under the Mashako plan, 220,000 children who would otherwise be susceptible to life-threatening, preventable diseases will now have access to vaccines.
  3. Health Care Workers- The number of health care workers in the DRC averages out to .09 physicians to 1,000 individuals. This is drastically less than many other countries, such as the United States with almost 3 physicians per 1,000 individuals. Additionally, there are more than 4 physicians to 1,000 individuals in Italy. Furthermore, one-third of health care workers are over 60 years old. These numbers are odd and surprising, considering the country produces up to 9,000 new health care workers each year. Despite this, there is a significant shortage of health care workers in many areas and facilities in the DRC. This is due to a lack of proper record keeping. In recent years, however, the DRC has been working with IntraHealth International to implement iHRIS. This program aims to aid the country in recording and managing data pertaining to the health care workforce. The goal of iHRIS is to help record missing information and better disperse doctors throughout the DRC.
  4. Government Spending- The Government of the DRC (GRDC) has recently given more attention to health care and is making the health of its citizens a higher priority. In 2015, the government increased health care spending to almost 9 percent of the overall budget, in comparison to 3.4 percent in 2011. Also in 2015, and for the very first time, the GRDC reserved funds specifically for drugs and contraceptives, which are crucial for various parts of the population. Despite these improvements, government spending on health care in the DRC continues to be among the lowest in the world.

Over time, recent government changes and shifting priorities are making significant and notable improvements to the health care system in the DRC. These top four facts about health care in the Democratic Republic of the Congo demonstrate that access to health care is critical in both citizens and the country’s future.

– Melissa Quist
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Patriarchy
While poverty and patriarchy may seem like separate issues, the two connect deeply. As long as poverty exists, women’s rights and livelihoods will suffer. Likewise, women’s oppression leads to their inability to contribute to the economy and prevents a family’s escape from cycles of poverty. Here are some examples from around the world of poverty and patriarchy reinforcing each other, and some ways humanitarian aid can improve these situations.

Microcredit in Bangladesh Has Left Millions of Women At High Risk For Domestic Violence

From the 1980s to the mid-2000s, people thought that micro-loans would be the future of international development. In Bangladesh, most of these loans went to women on the belief that women could handle money more responsibly than their male counterparts. They received a small amount of money to invest in materials to start a business and earn an independent livelihood in order to bring their families financial stability. Unfortunately, when these women were unsuccessful at lifting their families out of poverty and their families plunged into greater debt as a result of the loans, they often suffered spousal abuse. For other women, as soon as they received the money, the men and their families took it and used it, leaving them to pay off the loans by themselves. As a whole, micro-credit has not had the intended impact on the people of Bangladesh that the international community once hoped for, and rates of violence against women have climbed, increasing the correlation between poverty and patriarchy

Solution: Investing in women’s education will provide them with the knowledge they need to become financially independent and ensure greater legal protection for victims of domestic violence could greatly combat this issue.

Poverty As a Weapon Against Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sixty-one percent of women living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo live in poverty, compared to only fifty-one percent of men. This is because people have systematically excluded women from peace-building efforts in the country. Because there are no women’s voices at the decision-making table, countries set policies that prioritize men, often at women’s expense. Disturbingly, women’s rights activists in the country are often a target for violence. Many think that those who advocate for women-centered poverty-relief efforts are distracting from larger issues within the country.

Solution: Studies that researchers conducted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo demonstrate that in areas with high levels of poverty, there are high levels of violence against women. Providing food security, as well as funding institutions and organizations to empower women, are important steps in relieving both poverty and oppression in the DRC.

Time Poverty Makes it Nearly Impossible for Indian Women to Contribute to the Economy

In India, the average man works seven hours per day. Although women usually work for nine hours a day, the vast majority of their labor is unpaid housework and childminding. This means that they have little time to earn any outside wages, and therefore, remain financially dependent on the men in their families.  The power dynamic that this situation creates is extremely dangerous. Women lose any agency they may have because they depend on their fathers, husbands or brothers for everything. This means that they have no power to go against their male relative’s wills. It also hurts the Indian economy, as women have little ability to contribute to it.

Solution: In rural India, women spend upwards of four hours each day gathering fuel and cleaning utensils to cook with. Providing them with solar or electric cookers could save them three hours of unpaid labor, giving them more time to do what they want to do or contribute to the economy as an untapped workforce.

These examples display just how poverty and patriarchy intertwine and push women and their families into poverty. If women could gain an education, receive food security or use alternative cooking equipment to limit labor, they might be able to improve their situation and lift themselves out of poverty.

Gillian Buckley
Photo: Wikimedia