Inflammation and stories on Democratic Republic of the Congo

water quality in the Democratic Republic of the CongoAs the second largest country in Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is home to around 95 million people as of 2021. Characterized by political instability and conflict, the land is rich in natural resources, but its people are amongst the poorest in the world. As most Congolese people make less than $2 a day, having access to safe bottled water is considered an “impossible luxury.” This highlights the need for efforts that aim to improve water quality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Water Quality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

  1. Only 52% of the DRC has access to basic water and even less (29%) have access to sanitation. Despite being home to over 50% of Africa’s water reserves, 33 million people across the country’s most rural areas still can’t access safe water. Moreover, 43% of under-5-year-old children in the DRC are facing chronic malnutrition.
  2. Reasons for low water quality in the DRC include conflict, displaced citizens, poor management, economic instability and governance constraints. For example, when displaced people arrive in host communities where there is already extremely restricted access to drinking water, it leaves further strains on the available resources. Also, the issue of bacterial contamination is a direct consequence of open defecation. Other causes include substandard sanitation systems and polluted surface water. In the DRC, there is no national monitoring of water systems and a restricted understanding of the issues caused by poor water quality. Economic progress has stagnated, inhibiting the government’s ability to invest in infrastructure maintenance. A hostile political environment has similarly prevented social accountability and the development of water and sanitation services, according to Global Waters.
  3. Poor water quality in the DRC has facilitated the spread of waterborne diseases. The lack of access to sanitary facilities and safe water makes it generally impossible to prevent most waterborne diseases. Conflicts also encourage population movements, thereby further worsening the disease problem. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) study found that since the war, most Congolese have not died because of violence but because of waterborne diseases such as malaria, diarrhea and malnutrition, according to The Water Project.
  4. Climate Change has had an impact on the water quality in the DRC. As one of “the most vulnerable countries in the world to the effects of climate change,” according to USAID, the DRC doesn’t have adequate equipment to deal with the consequences. For example, weather patterns are variable, and when the rainfall becomes more intense, the region becomes more susceptible to extreme floods, landslides and other disasters that affect the availability and quality of surface water. At the other end of the scale, extreme drought and longer dry seasons could become more common as climate change worsens. This could exacerbate poverty and create food insecurity as well as political instability, USAID reports.
  5. The DRC is particularly rich in natural resources and has vast agricultural land as well as “immense biodiversity.” Home to the second largest rainforest after the Amazon, the DRC is heavily dependent on its agriculture. But in 2020, the country lost 1.3 million hectares of forests, harmfully impacting the environment and reducing biodiversity across the region. Unfortunately, this threatened the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on agriculture.
  6. In 1998, the DRC joined “Africa’s First World War, in a conflict between seven African nations,” according to The Water Project. The reasons for this war included struggles over minerals, water and food. Not only was it a determining factor at the beginning of the war, but following the conflict, access to water became increasingly restricted. This was a consequence of the collapse of the DRC’s infrastructure during the fighting.

Ongoing Efforts

UNICEF, USAID and Join for Water are among the organizations doing great work to alleviate the consequences of water quality in the DRC. UNICEF is improving access to safe drinking water supplies as well as adequate sanitation facilities in schools and communities. It also created the national program, “Healthy School and Village” in the DRC which aims to stop the spread of waterborne diseases through safe water and hygiene education, according to its website.

According to its website, Join for Water is active across three provinces in the DRC: Ituri, Tshopo and Kwilu. Its focus is on rebuilding and maintaining drinking water infrastructure by working with local organizations to advocate for resource and river protection. It also works to protect agroforestry with farmers and ensure students receive environmental education in school.

USAID, alongside the U.S. government, has provided millions of liters of safe drinking water to the Congolese people, helping over 1 million people gain access to safe water and sanitation facilities, according to Global Waters.

Looking Ahead

Efforts to improve water quality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are making a difference in the lives of millions of people. Organizations like UNICEF, Join for Water and USAID are working tirelessly to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities in schools and communities. These initiatives not only combat waterborne diseases but also empower communities and promote environmental education. With ongoing support and collaboration, the DRC is moving closer to ensuring a brighter future where safe water becomes a reality for all its people.

– Bethan Marsden
Photo: Flickr

Child Labor in Cobalt Mines In 2014, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that about 40,000 children worked in mines in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with many of the children engaging in cobalt mining. Research by Amnesty International and African Resources Watch (Afrewatch) in 2016 found that constant exposure to cobalt dust leads to fatal respiratory diseases such as asthma and hard metal lung disease. Child labor in cobalt mines exposes children to the risk of developing diseases and injuries as they often work without the appropriate protective gear.

Poverty and Child Labor in Cobalt Mines

Cobalt is a type of metal commonly used in lithium-ion batteries. The DRC is the leading mecca for cobalt production as the nation holds more than 50% of the global cobalt reserves. The excavation fields are mostly small artisanal mines, often lacking resources and protective equipment, such as gloves and masks, necessary for safer mining activities. Due to poverty rates in the country, child labor is common in mining and other sectors. In 2022, close to 62% of Congolese people, equal to around 60 million individuals, survived on less than $2.15 a day, the World Bank highlights.

Despite the poor and hazardous working conditions, children continue to work in these artisanal mines out of necessity. Impoverished families struggle to meet their basic needs and cannot afford the cost of school fees, therefore, many parents push their children to contribute to the household income by working in small mines that operate under little to no regulations. Some children do not attend school at all and engage in mining work full time while others do attend school and engage in this work after school or on weekends.

Although the Congolese government enacted the DRC Child Protection Code of 2009, which provides” free and compulsory primary education,” the lack of sufficient government funding for education places the responsibility of paying non-tuition fees, such as teachers’ salaries and uniform costs, on parents. Parents have to pay between 10,000 to 30,000 Congolese Francs ($10-30) a month, an expense unaffordable for many.

The Child Labor Experience

The exact nature of child labor in cobalt mines differs from site to site. Generally, children excavate in ditches, work in rivers, turn and sort the metal and haul heavy materials. If children are too young to work alone, they work with their mothers, helping with digging or sorting. According to research by Amnesty International and Afrewatch, children work for up to 12 hours a day in the mining fields. Even schoolchildren work similar hours on weekends.

In 2015, Amnesty International and Afrewatch researchers interviewed 17 Congolese children who worked or still work in the mines. The child miners shared their experiences, with many recounting that the mining areas are often sweltering or drenched with rain, lacking any overhead protection. The interviewees also reported that some security guards hired by the mining companies physically mistreated them or stole their wages.

Ending Child Labor in Cobalt Mines

UNICEF and the Global Battery Alliance (GBA), “a public-private collaboration platform founded in 2017 at the World Economic Forum to help establish a sustainable battery value chain by 2030,” are working to end child labor in the cobalt mines of the DRC. One of the partnership’s aims is to reintegrate into education 500 children from Kipushi territory who exited work in the mining sector. Social workers working for UNICEF register the children in the civil registry and some are placed in foster care if necessary. Children who have experienced violence or abuse also receive counseling and medical services. In 2021, 271 former Congolese child miners returned to school.

In 2021, UNICEF collaborated with RCS Global Group to develop and distribute a toolkit to help prevent child labor in cobalt mines as part of their Mitigating Child Rights Deprivations in ASM (Artisanal Small-scale Mining) Communities Project. Mining companies and supply chain stakeholders utilize the toolkit for identifying infringements on child rights and implementing more effective social protection measures in the affected communities.

Hope for Children in the DRC

Several organizations are working to eliminate child labor in cobalt mines. Alongside other alleviatory initiatives, these organizations are pushing for appropriate regulations in the mining industry. These efforts will allow Congolese children to participate in education without having to bear their family’s financial burden.

– Amber Kim
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Period Poverty in the Democratic Republic of the CongoPeriod poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) manifests itself in high costs of sanitary products, lack of access to hygiene and sanitation facilities and stigma. Fortunately, the non-governmental organization Uwezo Afrika Initiative is working to address these issues.

Defining Period Poverty

Period poverty entails a lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, facilities, education and waste management. For young girls and women unable to purchase sanitary products, period poverty interrupts their progression as these girls cannot attend school or work. Period poverty can have negative effects on mental and physical health and serves as a barrier to the advancement and progression of females across the globe. Worldwide, period poverty affects an estimated 500 million people.

Period Poverty in the DRC

In Kinshasa, in the commune of Makala, specifically in the M’Fidi district, menstruating girls are separated from their peers and may not use the same sanitary facilities as the other children. In the M’Fidi district, almost all schools have only one communal toilet facility for both males and females, making it impossible for menstruating girls to use alternative facilities.

Due to the financial hardship many families face, many girls cannot afford adequate sanitary products. The cost of disposable sanitary pads in the country ranges between $2 and $3 per month. In 2022, almost 62% of Congolese, equal to around 60 million people, lived on less than $2.15 a day, the World Bank highlights. In a country with high poverty rates where the average family has around three daughters, the cost of menstrual hygiene products represents a significant financial burden. As a result, many girls are forced to reuse sanitary products or resort to unhygienic alternatives, which poses risks to their health.

Dangers of Poor Menstrual Hygiene

Poor menstrual hygiene can pose several potential risks to women’s reproductive health. Using unclean alternatives or used sanitary products can introduce bacteria into the vagina, leading to infections in the reproductive and urinary tract and possible infertility.

Another rare but dangerous complication of poor menstrual hygiene is toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS manifests as flu-like symptoms, blistering rash, low blood pressure, disorientation, vomiting and diarrhea. Bacterial toxins cause the condition and menstruating females who use tampons are at particular risk when proper hygiene protocols are not followed.

DRC Period Poverty Statistics

A study by Laura Rossouw and Hana Ross published in 2021 seeks to analyze the extent of period poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and seven other developing countries. The study found that 57% of the sample of women surveyed in Kinshasa reported that menstrual hygiene management facilities lacked privacy and 35% reported that these spaces are not safe. A staggering 75% of the surveyed females cannot lock the hygiene facility they use. In Kinshasa, as many as 84% of the sample reported a lack of access to water and/or soap in toilet facilities.

Impact of Reusable Sanitary Pads

The Uwezo Afrika Initiative, a non-governmental organization, launched a program in 2018 to eradicate period poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The organization manufactures reusable sanitary pads, called Maisha Pads, using fabrics from local markets and distributes them to schools, orphanages and low-income families. The reusable Maisha Pads sell in sets of three for the affordable price of $2.50 and one can reuse the pads safely for several months. Notably, the initiative provides employment opportunities for women on the production line and enables them to earn commissions on sales.

Looking Ahead

Period poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo poses a significant challenge to the emotional and physical well-being of girls and women throughout the nation. Nevertheless, the production and distribution of reusable pads offer a glimmer of hope to those facing the impacts of period poverty.

– Jess Steward
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The largest country in Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is “among the five poorest nations in the world.” Political instability, humanitarian crises, and conflict have aided the fact that 64% of all Congolese lived under the poverty line in 2021. With the population growing, along with unemployment, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government, joined with international aid, has been making efforts toward poverty reduction in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Socioeconomic Issues

According to data from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government and the International Monetary Fund’s country reports, unemployment impacts 30% of young citizens, which the COVID-19 crisis has only impacted more. Within the workforce, there is a gap between genders. In 2021, Congolese women only made up 23% of the government, 14% of the parliament and 24% of communal councils. Unemployment is higher among women, at 10.2% juxtaposed to 9% for men.

The country is one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa in levels of morbidity and mortality, along with having a maternity mortality ratio of 378 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategy for the Republic of Congo report. When it comes to education, the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen a shortage of qualified teachers, a high student-to-teacher ratio and poor school infrastructure.

Poverty is the main issue within the country, as estimates have stated that the poverty rate rose between the years 2019 and 2020 by 4%, according to IMF. This is in large part due to the outbreak of COVID-19, which aggravated an economic recession and made it hard for Congolese people to afford rent, electricity and water bills, food and health care.

National Development Plan

The IMF report outlines the country’s National Development Plan 2022-2026. The goal of the plan is to “build a strong, diversified and resilient economy.” To do so, the government plans on focusing on agriculture, industry, tourism, real estate, technology and economic zones. This plan to regrow the economy comes with the prospect of an agreement with the IMF that could provide monetary aid.

Agriculture is an essential employer within the DRC, making it the first priority in the plan. By focusing on it, the country believes it can “fight effectively against unemployment, poverty, uncontrolled urbanization, the disarticulation of the national territory, food insecurity, and the foreign aid deficit.” The development of industry could bring modernization to the country and create jobs. In a similar vein, developing economic zones can create a “new national economy” and open them up to globalization. Tourism is a potential new market for the country to open up to, along with digitalization.

Following a visit to the DRC on February 15, 2023, the IMF released a statement reviewing the country’s recent economic data, saying that the agency “looks forward to continuing engagement in support of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The World Bank

In 2022, the World Bank endorsed a Country Partnership Framework for the DRC that “promotes the stabilization and development of DRC, supporting strategic priorities and critical reforms to improve governance and deepen stabilization efforts.” The World Bank focuses on supporting the country’s developments in education, health and social protection.

As of June 2022, the World Bank aided poverty reduction in the Democratic Republic of Congo with $7.27 billion that financially supported 21 national projects and four regional projects. One of these projects is the Emergency Equity and System Strengthening in Education, which supports the country’s free primary education and lessens the burden of education costs on Congolese families. This project saw 2.5 million additional students enroll in school within 2021-2022 and allowed for around 60,000 teachers to receive regular salaries, the World Bank reports. The World Bank Urban Drinking Water Supply Project saw the installation of more than 450 community waterpoints, and the STEP-KIN project, launched in March 2021, is targeted to help 250,000 in its next phase.

The Human Rights Council

Recently, the United Nations Human Rights Council has been holding hearings with the Presidents of nations such as the DRC regarding peace plans. The speakers at this panel said that “human rights were at the centre of all global issues the world confronted today” and that “international financial institutions needed to undertake special measures to support developing countries in protecting basic rights to food, livelihood and a decent living.”

Félix-Antione Tshisekedi Tshilombo, the president of the DRC, spoke about political and military conflict within the country, a factor that can worsen poverty. The Human Rights Council and the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights recently addressed this conflict, reiterating a call for peace in Africa, along with assuring that “the U.N. Human Rights Office stands ready to continue our work to support the country in its efforts to overcome the human rights challenges that remain.”

As poverty reduction in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues, it is important to keep in mind how valuable foreign aid is to the rebuilding and restructuring of communities and countries.

– Audrey Gaines
Photo: Flickr

Economic Development in The DRC
While the Democratic Republic of the Congo has a history of extreme poverty and political instability, a recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report stated that growth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo rebounded astoundingly from 1.7% in 2020 to a projected 6.2% in 2021. The projected growth includes impressive metrics considering that the most recent IMF projections for Sub-Saharan Africa predicted 4.5% growth. While the DRC still has improvements to make to infrastructure, public health, literacy, child mortality and access to utilities, recent reforms have proven effective in stabilizing the Congolese economy.


The DRC has a history of political corruption dating back to the nation’s independence in the 1960s, “combined with countrywide instability and intermittent conflict that began in the early-90s.” This has consequently led to “reduced national output and government revenue, and increased external debt.” However, since implementing a transitional government after peace negotiations in 2003, economic development in the DRC has continued to improve, as the country reopened relations with international financial institutions and donors.

While the DRC’s economy contracted by 2.2% in 2021, inflation remained contained at 2% in 2021, despite sharp food price increases that rose by about 3.4%. The decline in oil prices in 2021 originally damaged economic development in the DRC. However, while the war in Ukraine could potentially increase inflation, “high oil prices could potentially boost the economic recovery.” This reality, while devastating to the nation’s poor, could contribute to growth and development in the DRC as the oil sector represents nearly half of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 80% of its exports, making the nation the third largest oil producer in the Sub-Saharan African region. 

Differences in Sub-Saharan Governments and Economies

The primary difference between the DRC and other Sub-Saharan African nations in regard to the economic metrics is government stability. For instance, the United States’ African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a duty-free trade group, has cut Ethiopia, Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso “over alleged human rights violations and recent coups.” This exclusion from the AGOA excludes Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea from accessing more than 1,800 products, as well as more than 5,000 products suitable for duty-free market access, or non-taxable market access, under the Generalized System of Preferences program.

The state of democracy in the DRC is questionable at best, with the U.S. State Department reporting incidents such as “forced disappearances and abductions by government and armed groups; torture by government; arbitrary detention by the government; [and] harsh and life-threatening prison conditions.” However, the relative stability of the DRC’s centralized constitutional republic has come with privileges. While other Sub-Saharan nations have faced exclusion, the DRC “regained AGOA beneficiary status as of” January 1, 2021. 

Economic Reforms

While the DRC has been in recovery mode from the economic contraction of 2021, the nation has still exceeded projections for economic growth and development due to a number of key strategies. Namely, the country includes the use of “a Fund-supported program” through which, DRC authorities adopted policies to regulate and stabilize inflation and the exchange rate. Also, debt restructuring agreements, increased oil prices and improvements in debt management have decreased public debt, which fell from 113% of GDP at the end of 2020 to 102% by the end of 2021. Ukraine-related inflation has also led to high commodity prices which have supported increased exports, revenues and international reserves.

A Need for Humanitarian Aid

While the IMF projections exceed original GDP-growth projections by the World Bank, which predicted “1.9% in 2022 and 4.1% on average over the period 2023-2024,” the conditions allowing for the DRC’s growth in economic development can be simultaneously harmful to the most vulnerable communities. For instance, the War in Ukraine, while improving commodity prices, has simultaneously led to increases in food prices which has intensified food insecurity. The DRC is also host to a number of social problems.

Infant mortality stands at a rate of 33 deaths per 1,000 live births, and access to electricity stands at 66% of the population in urban areas and only 15% in rural areas. The DRC’s access to clean water is also below the country’s “hydrological potential.” Luckily, groups like USAID offer assistance in such areas as “Agriculture and Food Insecurity, Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, Education and Global Health.” 

USAID has partnered with the government and people to improve citizens’ quality of life and the efficacy of national institutions while fighting for lasting peace. While many other African nations have suffered from the effects of coups, inflation and American sanctions, the DRC’s semblance of state stability and the intervention of humanitarian aid organizations have seemed to elevate the nation past expected metrics. One will be able to more clearly see how stable the DRC’s economy will be soon as economic projections are descriptive and not prescriptive. However, the DRC is currently exceeding predictions of GDP growth and facing less market insecurity than Sub-Saharan African nations that have faced punitive sanctions from Western nations for recent coups.

Braden Hampton
Photo: Flickr

Rhoe CampSituated 45 kilometers northeast of Bunia, a hilltop camp in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is housing tens of thousands of displaced asylum-seekers. The remote camp, known as “Rhoe Camp,” primarily consists of displaced families seeking to find shelter and safety amid armed attacks in the DRC. Yet, instead of receiving protection, people at the camp face increased violence. Furthermore, they also lack access to basic necessities which negatively impacts their overall well-being. To better understand this crisis, here are five facts about the DRC’s Rhoe Camp.

5 Facts About the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Rhoe Camp

  1. Influx of new arrivals: According to UNICEF, Rhoe Camp housed up to 75,000 displaced people in late 2021, with 50,000 people arriving in the first two weeks of December. This has posed a major problem, as the camp’s limited space cannot support an exponential increase in new arrivals. Thousands of individuals are forced to sleep in the open, where they are vulnerable to armed violence. Individuals that manage to find shelter in Rhoe Camp do not face better conditions since shelters are cramped with people and are not rain-proof.
  2. Lack of basic necessities: In light of the massive influx of new arrivals, the Rhoe Camp’s food supplies have not been able to support the growing population of the camp. Moreover, individuals are also prevented from searching for food beyond the camp’s borders due to violent militants. Thus, malnutrition and starvation are pervasive issues targeting displaced households, impacting children and pregnant women the most. In addition to food insecurity, the Rhoe Camp is suffering from a lack of sanitation measures that have facilitated the spreading of diseases. In the camp, there are around 1,300 people per toilet, and the camp’s health center receives more consultations than the staff can handle, forcing hundreds of mothers and children to rest on the floor. As such, “respiratory illnesses, diarrhea and malaria” continue to spread rapidly throughout the camp.
  3. Armed groups restrict humanitarian access: In 2021, armed violence in the eastern provinces of the DRC resulted in more than 2.7 million internal displacements. As violence runs rampant in the DRC, armed groups surrounding Rhoe Camp have made humanitarian efforts by land impossible. Not only do militants target hospitals and schools, but they also shoot aid workers attempting to provide medicine and other provisions to the camp. U.N. workers and other NGOs are thus forced to deliver supplies through the air, which is a more tedious and expensive process.
  4. Children are subjected to inhumane violations: While all displaced people in Rhoe Camp are subjected to cruel conditions, children, particularly young girls, face the brunt of the crisis. According to UNICEF, 36,000 children live in Rhoe Camp, facing issues such as kidnapping, rape and the threat of murder on a daily basis. Children are frequently sexually exploited when venturing for drinking water and food in the camp.
  5. UNICEF is providing support: In light of the adversities in the DRC’s Rhoe Camp, UNICEF has partnered with multiple organizations to provide aid. UNICEF has created child-friendly safe spaces, led more than 1,150 medical visits and formed an education program seeking to assist displaced people in the camp. Furthermore, UNICEF’s Rapid Response Program has distributed more than 5,000 kits—containing soap, blankets and more—to the remote camp. Other organizations have also made crucial contributions to Rhoe Camp, such as Doctors Without Borders, which has created clinics and conducted more than 800 weekly consultations in the camp.

Although the DRC’s Rhoe Camp is still undergoing extensive humanitarian problems, the camp is making steady improvements due to international efforts. The U.N. and other global organizations are teaming up to distribute critical resources to the impoverished, alleviating the adversities faced by its inhabitants little by little.

– Emma He
Photo: Flickr

Meningitis in the drc
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is one of the highest-risk countries for meningitis in the world. During the annual dry season from December to June, the disease claims thousands of lives and disables survivors with chronic illnesses.

Following decades of meningitis-related deaths and urgent calls for international support, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the Defeating Meningitis by 2030: A Global Road Map. The 2030 roadmap lists three goals: eliminate bacterial meningitis epidemics, reduce cases of vaccine-preventable bacterial meningitis by 50% and deaths by 70% and improve aftercare.

In its new approach, WHO plans an aggressive intervention in the DRC and across the African continent. Experts from across the world have supported and contributed to the campaign through research and advocacy efforts. Yet, reaching the 2030 goal requires much more attention from organizations, funds and community advocacy.

Meningitis in the DRC

Meningitis has plagued the DRC for decades with an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 cases each year. It takes various forms, with some serogroups being more fatal or serious than others. The most recent success in meningitis research targeted meningitis A through the MenAfriVac conjugate vaccine. In the DRC and across the sub-Saharan region where meningitis is most prevalent, MenAfriVac significantly reduced cases of meningitis A. Still, many other common serogroups require attention.

Furthermore, meningitis does not always leave individuals unaffected. “Meningitis is the second cause of neurological conditions in Africa, after strokes,” said Dr. Andre Bita, Regional Control Officer for WHO Africa, in an interview with The Borgen Project. “In the world, it’s the fifth. With meningitis you can have epilepsy, blindness, and so many disorders.” The long-term effects of meningitis have caused medical debt, burdens on families and communities, and lifelong aftercare.

“It is very difficult for a country to have a vaccine stockpile,” continued Bita. In the DRC where diseases including COVID-19, Ebola and measles also run rampant, there is a “competing outbreak response” that often delays meningitis research or vaccinations. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, meningitis control activities fell by 50% from 2019 to 2020.

WHO’s 2030 Plan

Still, the many variations of meningitis leave the DRC vulnerable. “Unfortunately,” Bita continued, “we have other epidemics due to other germs.” Where the MenAfriVac campaign focused on eliminating only meningitis A, WHO’s new vision “towards a world free of meningitis” is to completely defeat the disease and all of its variations by 2030.

The Defeating Meningitis by 2030 initiative outlines five interconnected pillars of meningitis treatment: prevention and epidemic control, diagnosis and treatment, meningitis surveillance, aftercare for meningitis survivors and advocacy and engagement. If WHO can meet these five goals, it will have a higher chance of reducing bacterial meningitis.

While the 2030 roadmap will particularly help sub-Saharan countries like the DRC, it also addresses meningitis in other regions. Bita helped conduct a risk assessment to determine a country’s risk for meningitis, discovering that “we now have 38 countries at high to medium risk, and we only have nine countries at low risk. That means, apart from the sub-Sahara, we have other countries such as Algeria with medium risk.” Therefore, to completely defeat meningitis by 2030, WHO will have to use a continental approach.

Spreading the Word

The 2030 roadmap has all the right goals in place. Experts in meningitis research and community advocates have created a medical and social approach to the problem. However, carrying out the plan will be no easy feat. To be successful, it will require more funds and community awareness from the DRC and the international community.

Bita stated that to carry out the 2030 plan, “we need to really involve all the beneficiaries, all the people who can support it, to make it possible.” It will require advocacy and engagement “at all stages” and resources that many countries do not have.

Through mobilizing provinces around the DRC, Bita hopes the 2030 plan will reach as many communities as possible. To do so, there needs to be more visibility on the 2030 plan, meningitis research, and community engagement at the local, national and international levels. If WHO’s regional plan for Africa receives full funding at its $1.5 billion estimate, the 2030 plan could save more than 140,000 lives.

– Anna Lee
Photo: Flickr

Belgian Royalty’s Trip to the DRC
On June 7, 2022, the Belgian King, Philippe of Belgium and his wife, Queen Mathilde of Belgium, arrived in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Their stay in the former Belgian Congo lasted six days. The King met and shook hands with the Congolese president, Felix Tshisekedi. Philippe expressed regret for his country’s past actions in the DRC, as he did before in 2020. Although he is the first Belgian official to do this, he has yet to issue a formal apology. Philippe has also returned a traditional initiation mask of the Suku to Tshisekedi, describing the action as an “indefinite loan.” Here is some information about Belgium’s history in the DRC including the Belgian royalty’s recent trip to the DRC.

The Belgian Congo Era

Belgium’s involvement with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its region began in 1885 when European leaders of the time met at the Berlin Conference to divide parts of Africa for themselves. King Leopold II received the Congo Basin, which he took as his own private property and named the Congo Free State.

Leopold’s personal rule of Congo lasted 23 years, ending in 1908. During this period, people living in the territory had to provide rubber for Belgium to profit off of. They received threats that the authorities would kidnap the women and children of their village, and if they did not provide the desired rubber, the transaction ended in severed hands and feet. Violent methods like these extended to the extraction of other resources, such as ivory. Leopold also assigned multiple regions of the Congo Free State as concessions to private companies, a huge financial benefit for him.

In 1908, the Congo Free State became the Belgian Congo after outrage surrounding unjust conditions in the area. After World War I, many private American and European corporations developed plantations in the colony. This is where native Congolese people worked under four to seven-year-long contracts. Additionally, forced labor led to the construction of public facilities such as roads, buildings and railroads.

After decades of rebellion and protest, the colony gained independence from Belgium in 1960 and became the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Post-Colonial Era and Poverty

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has consistently suffered from endemic poverty. It ranks 179th of 189 on the United Nations Development Index and in terms of personal income, the DRC is the poorest country in the world. Malnourishment and lack of access to drinking water are prevalent problems.

Belgium’s Foreign Aid

The Kingdom of Belgium’s Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation describes the DRC as its most important partner country. Belgium is active in certain sectors of the DRC, including agriculture, health care, infrastructure and education. The Indicative Cooperation Programme had a €75 million per year budget between the years 2010 and 2013. It focused on the aforementioned sectors of the African nation.

Belgian officials and ministers show continued support for aiding the DRC, ensuring that they set aside yearly funds for the country.

As meetings and activities between Belgian and Congolese leaders continue, a pathway to partnerships and investments between the two nations opens up. The DRC president Tshisekedi said he is focusing on cooperation to attract investment and improve health care and education in his country with the Belgian Royalt’s trip.

King Philippe is one of the multiple European country leaders who have been addressing their country’s harmful colonial past. The Belgian royalty’s trip to the DRC led to a ceremony in the Congolese Parliament. King Philippe also delivered a speech to university students in the southern city of Lubumbashi. He stated, “We are not forgetting the past, we are looking to the future,” DW reported. The Belgian royalty’s trip to the DRC should be a positive step in the right direction to alleviating past wrongs.

– Sophie Buibas
Photo: Flickr

Monkeypox Outbreak in Africa
As monkeypox cases continue to come on the radar in the U.S. and Europe, wealthier countries are rolling out vaccines and medications to address the issue, bringing to light the inequities Africa faces in response to the monkeypox outbreak in Africa.

What is Monkeypox?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), monkeypox is a zoonotic disease (transmitted to humans from animals) with symptoms that closely resemble the indications of smallpox, although less severe. The name of the disease, monkeypox, arose “from the initial discovery of the virus in monkeys in a Danish laboratory in 1958.” The first case of monkeypox among humans occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1970.

Symptoms begin with “fevers, chills, sweats, fatigue and enlarged, tender lymph nodes in the neck and groin.” The next phase involves “a multi-stage rash” that eventually develops into prominent pustules, mostly on an individual’s face, palms and soles of the feet. The disease is generally mild, however, serious illness and mortality can occur.

According to the WHO, the monkeypox virus transmits “from one person to another by close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding.”

Monkeypox Outbreaks

Monkeypox endemic countries fall within Central and West Africa. The first known group of infections to occur outside of Africa happened in 2003 in the United States. The outbreak began as a result of “imported Gambian rats” transferring the virus to prairie dogs. Humans then acquired these dogs as pets, resulting in the infections of 87 children and adults. There were no fatalities but three children endured severe illness.

Before 2022, the United Kingdom, Israel, Singapore and the U.S. noted several isolated cases from travelers who had visited Nigeria. On May 7, 2022, the U.K. noted a case of monkeypox from a traveler returning from Nigeria. As of June 6, 2022, the U.K. and 29 other non-endemic countries have noted more than 550 cases of monkeypox.

Africa Sees Inequity in Monkeypox Response

Health care officials in developed regions have access to vaccines and medicine to steady the progression of the monkeypox outbreaks in these areas. This has brought to light the reality that monkeypox treatment has been available for a long time, yet Africa has struggled without resources to combat this virus for decades.

Africa notes “more than 1,400 monkeypox cases and 63 deaths in four countries where the disease is endemic — Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo and Nigeria.” As wealthier countries roll out vaccines and antivirals, Dr. Adesola Yinka-Ogunleye, leader of Nigeria’s monkeypox working group, said that “there are currently no vaccines or antivirals being used against monkeypox in [Nigeria].” People with potential monkeypox infections enter isolation and authorities monitor their contacts.

Dr. Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of global public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, acknowledged this inequity, noting “a different attitude to the kinds of resources we deploy depending on where cases are.” He said further that “It exposes a moral failing when those interventions aren’t available for the millions of people in Africa who need them.” The World Health Organization has about 31 million smallpox vaccines that could treat monkeypox, however, it has never dispensed these vaccines to address the monkeypox outbreak in Africa.

Jay Chudi, an expert living in Enugu, Nigeria, an area noting monkeypox cases since 2017, says cases in wealthier countries prompted the world to confront the spread of monkeypox. “We are now seeing it can end once and for all, but because it is no longer just in Africa. Now everybody is worried,” Chudi said.

JYNNEOS Smallpox (Monkeypox) Vaccine

In 2019, the FDA approved a two-dose vaccine called JYNNEOS to prevent both smallpox and monkeypox in adults. As of June 8, 2022, this vaccine is available in the United Kingdom, United States, Europe, Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, Canada and Nigeria.

Despite the availability of vaccines, many African countries continue to endure the hardships of the monkeypox epidemic. With the availability of the  JYNNEOS vaccine in Nigeria, Africa now has newfound hope.

– Jacara Watkins
Photo: Flickr

WFP’s Cash and Food Assistance Programs
The World Food Programme (WFP) implements cash and food assistance programs that give individuals at risk of falling into poverty money and food to support themselves. The WFP’s cash and food assistance programs’ main goals are to reduce poverty, alleviate food insecurity and boost economic development.

Assisting the DRC

A successful example is the WFP’s cash assistance program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where 26 million people are at risk of facing acute hunger as of May 2022. An article published on May 17, 2022, states that the WFP considers the DRC its “biggest emergency” because conflict and the pandemic compound the nation’s circumstances of poverty.

Benefiting about 100,000 of the most impoverished people in the N’sele municipality, the WFP’s social protection and cash assistance program has occurred in partnership with UNICEF. The cash assistance equates to about $40 a month for beneficiaries to sustain their livelihoods and afford food, which became expensive as a result of the Ukraine-Russia war.

Community members attest that the cash assistance program in the DRC has helped improve the lives of many people. The WFP’s recent success with the cash assistance program in the DRC stands as proof that continuous international financial support for the WFP is necessary to help the developing world tackle poverty.

In recent years, the WFP has been experiencing “funding shortfalls” due to the pandemic’s impact on member states’ abilities to donate. This negatively affected WFP’s ability to reduce poverty further in developing or war-torn countries around the world. Thus, increased financial contribution to the WFP can lead to economic recovery in developing countries.

How Funding Shortfalls are Impacting WFP’s Goals

Although the reduced funding negatively impacted WFP’s cash and food assistance programs, it hurt refugees and vulnerable communities more. For example, in 2021, the WFP had to consider cutting down on food rations for refugees in Cameroon as a result of insufficient funding, potentially impacting 70,000 Nigerians and 100,000 Central African Republic refugees.

In Jordan, the WFP could no longer provide food aid to about 263,000 Syrian refugees by the close of August 2021. In Tanzania, the WFP’s refugee support program had to implement “ration cuts of up to 32[%] of the minimum calorie requirement since December 2020” due to funding inadequacies.

This highlights the necessity of continued funding of the WFP to help developing countries reduce poverty and boost their economies.

WFP Tackles Poverty Despite Funding Issues

Despite its recent financial setbacks, the WFP is still the world leader in tackling food insecurity and poverty. Ukraine stood as the breadbasket of the world until the Russian invasion in February 2022, prompting a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

However, the WFP’s cash and food assistance programs managed to mitigate the impacts of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. For example, in May 2022, the WFP managed to give 1 million Ukrainians cash to support themselves amid the crisis and “injected nearly US$74 million into the Ukrainian economy.” Furthermore, the WFP is delivering essential foods, such as rice and pasta, to approximately 420,000 people a month.

Countries Financially Supporting the WFP

There are still countries around the world that acknowledge the crucial role of the WFP’s cash and food assistance programs in reducing poverty. On May 19, 2022, the United States Congress passed H.R. 7691, which authorizes the government to spend $5 million on humanitarian assistance in Ukraine. This funding authorization will help the WFP “provide life-saving assistance to millions of people around the world.”

On May 30, 2022, the European Union donated €5 million to the WFP so it can deliver food to 1.6 million food-insecure individuals in Burkina Faso.

Looking Ahead

The World Food Programme still stands as the leading global humanitarian organization that saves millions of lives daily, which is why it won the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. However, the WFP still needs continuous international support through increased financial contributions from the international community.

Global citizens and anti-poverty advocates must continue to push their governments and representatives to donate more to the WFP to address the impacts of funding shortfalls on the world’s most disadvantaged people.

– Abdullah Dowaihy
Photo: Flickr