Inflammation and stories on Democratic Republic of the Congo

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

Children with Ebola

In July 2019, there were 750 reported cases of Ebola among children. This is in comparison to 20 percent dating back to prior epidemics. Children are particularly vulnerable to contracting Ebola and require special care to treat the disease. Also in July 2019, about one-third of children have accounted for the nearly 1,700 people who lost their lives to Ebola since August 2018 in The Democratic Republic of Congo. Additionally this month, over 2,500 individuals have been diagnosed with the illness. The nation has begun working with the World Health Organization (WHO) along with other health advocacy organizations such as UNICEF to help cure Ebola.

Children and Ebola: The Numbers

Children under age five are at the highest risk and often suffer the worst symptoms. Out of the 750 cases reported, 40 percent of children under age five were diagnosed with Ebola. Young children are also most likely to die from this disease, as their fatality rate is 77 percent. This is in comparison to 67 percent for other age groups.

Symptoms and Treatments

Manifestations of Ebola encompass fever, headache, diarrhea, and sometimes blood vessel discharges. Prompt detection and sufficient medication are effective in curing the disease.

Because children are more susceptible to contracting Ebola and due to the difference in symptoms in comparison to adults, children with Ebola require differentiated medical care.

Medical personnel has articulated that special treatments are necessary for children suffering from Ebola. They require different and exclusive treatments to focus on children’s individual psychological and social requirements.

Treatments for children with Ebola consist of the same drugs that are used to treat other age groups. Of course, distinct quantities differ. Young children also receive zinc to cure diarrhea and intestinal parasite infections as well. Undernourished children must receive different medication. For example, they are given food that is precisely manufactured for their needs.

Orphaned and Abandoned Children

Hundreds of children are either orphaned or abandoned due to their parents becoming infected with Ebola. UNICEF has organized nursery settings in conjunction with treatment centers. Survivors even serve as caregivers.

Children whose parents have been diagnosed or die from Ebola are at an increased risk of being condemned and forsaken, as their chances are much higher of contracting the disease. Within the treatment centers, all patients undergo examinations on a daily basis.

For orphan children, The Democratic Republic of Congo works to set up arrangements with other family members for the child to live. Additionally, the country is providing nutrient guidelines and covering the cost of fees to allow children to attend school.

Specialized Care for Children

Pediatricians work with children within the Ebola Treatment Centers to deliver focused treatments for children with Ebola. Treatment is based on the patients’ individual needs. Every child that has lost parents to Ebola, or has been separated as a result of their illness, receives specialized care. They are cared for by Ebola survivors who provide comfort. They also transport the child to visit their parents receiving medical care at the Ebola Treatment Centers. In addition, counselors are also present to provide support to families throughout the duration of their treatment.

Nutritionists are also present in the treatment centers to deliver personalized nutrient guidelines to those who are likely to have the disease, as well as those who have been diagnosed already. As a result of these health innovations, these types of care have proven to improve sufferers’ conditions.

International Intervention to Eliminate Ebola

Save the Children is a nonprofit organization that began in the United Kingdom in 1919. Their goal is to advance children’s lives in various aspects, such as education, healthcare and employment. Additionally, the organization supplies relief in response to natural disasters and war.

WHO, in conjunction with Save the Children has declared the current Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo to be a public health emergency of international concern. Due to the outbreak duration of nearly one year, further actions are being implemented to eliminate further cases of Ebola and to provide treatment for children with Ebola. It is predicted that if the outbreak of Ebola continues, the surrounding countries will be affected as well.

Several hundreds of government officials and health personnel are working to cure those infected by the disease and prevent further cases. Save the Children is promoting advocacy efforts in curing Ebola through communal action and informational sessions. These efforts are to ensure that all age groups are informed of prevention practices.

Since the beginning of the current epidemic, Save the Children has provided one million individuals with advice relating to symptom detection and how to prevent the spread of Ebola. Health workers receive training on how to treat those infected with Ebola.  Patients are separated and the disease is then traced. Save the Children also educates the public about the disease.

Save the Children has also delivered various supplies to health practices and border crossings in addition to establishing sanitation facilities in order to decrease further infections and to provide treatments for children with Ebola.

Bringing Hope to Children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Thanks to international intervention and specialized care, children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are receiving the treatment they need to fight against Ebola. There is still much to be done, but as long as aid efforts continue, there is hope for these children’s futures.

– Diana Dopheide
Photo: Flickr

Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

In August of 2018 the Democratic Republic of Congo declared an Ebola outbreak. The first case of the virus erupted in the city of Goma, located on the border of Rwanda. As the tenth Ebola outbreak in Congo within 40 years, the virus became a public health concern for the over 1 million people that call Goma home. Goma also acts as a popular transit hub for many people crossing the border into Rwanda putting the population at a heightened risk for the disease to spread. The International Health Regulations Emergency Committee has met four times following this initial Ebola case.

  1. A Widespread Disease: Congo’s ongoing Ebola outbreak is now the world’s second-largest. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), the virus has infected 2,512 people and killed 1,676. The largest Ebola outbreak on record took place in West Africa killing more than 11,300 people. WHO continues its efforts to stop the spread of the disease in Congo with its team of medical specialists. In the worst cases, death and uncontrollable bleeding have resulted from the viral hemorrhagic fevers of the disease.
  2. A Global Issue: On July 17, 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in Congo a global health emergency. Following the first case of Ebola, intensive training for the prevention and control of the virus heightened for more than six months. News of a female traveller from Beni that contracted the virus, and then visited Uganda sparked growing concern in Uganda and Congo. Between June and July of 2019 an estimated 245 confirmed cases of Ebola were reported in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces of Congo. WHO makes the continuous effort to monitor the cases of those infected, as well as travel and trade measures in relation to the virus.
  3. Dangerous Territory: The Ebola response teams in the Democratic Republic of Congo face violent attacks. David Gressley, the United Nations’ secretary-general, became the deputy of the U.N. missions in Congo and witnessed it firsthand. Gressley requested a force of peacekeepers along with the health officials to assist him amid the attacks. The violent attacks often hinder the Ebola responders from treating people with the virus, and still no one knows the reasoning or people behind the attacks. The U.N. estimates that due to the attacks about 1,200 have been shot or slashed to death with machetes. One popular theory points to Congolese politicians orchestrating the attacks in order to undermine political rivals. On the other hand, the Congolese government blames the Mai Mai militia. Rumors continue to swirl that the U.N. responders fail to treat Ebola patients, and intentionally spread the virus which makes them even more susceptible to these attacks.
  4. Catching Ebola: Common diseases such as measles and malaria share initial symptoms of Ebola. Many medical specialists in Congo believe that to put a stop to this epidemic they first must isolate the disease. Most Ebola patients receive a diagnosis too late, and go through multiple health facilities before getting treatment. Response teams understand that controlling the transmission of Ebola, and catching the disease in its early stages has the potential to save an entire community.
  5. The Ebola Vaccination: More than 111,000 people have received the Ebola vaccination. Developed by Canadian scientists, the Ebola vaccine (also known as the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine) consists of an animal virus that can wear a non-lethal Ebola virus protein, which results in the human immune system developing a pre-emotive defense to the disease. Health care professionals, and family members of Ebola patients are the majority of those vaccinated. Health care responders in Congo ensure that all the contacts of Ebola patients receive a vaccine to stop the epidemic. Reports show no deaths from individuals that developed Ebola symptoms more than 10 days after receiving the vaccination.
  6. Promoting a Disease-Free Environment: Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) promotes healthcare and community engagement in Congo. This organization sends teams to determine and assist the medical needs of populations in crisis with exclusion from healthcare. Among the Ebola outbreak in Congo, MSF continues to provide free healthcare for non-Ebola needs, such as malaria and urinary tract infections. First starting in the city Goma, the MSF has now shifted aid to the Ituri province to limit infections with sanitation activities, and provide access to clean water.

These six facts about the Ebola outbreak in Congo demonstrate global organization’s enthusiasm to assemble in times of crisis. Countless organizations continue to lend support to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in due time the country will be at its best with a healthy population.

– Nia Coleman
Photo: Flickr


Now, more than ever, the world is becoming more interconnected. While the new societal and political inter-dependencies are obvious, even fields like manufacturing are a part of this trend. One product serves as a glaring example of this phenomenon: the smartphone. This hand-sized piece of technology has a shocking amount of components from a shocking number of places. Tech giant Apple sources materials from nearly 45 countries to make its products. While global interconnectedness can certainly be a positive thing, especially in worldwide manufacturing arrangements, at-risk communities in this process can pay a price. Though there is potential for exploitation at many stages of production, it is especially bad at the raw materials stage. Mining toxic minerals like nickel, cadmium and cobalt can come at a high cost to human health. Unfortunately, the production of smartphones harms children in poverty.

To explore the specific threats to child laborers, it is helpful to focus in on one microcosm within the larger mining industry. One particularly harmful mineral in cell phone production is cobalt. Largely mined by hand, cobalt is a silvery-gray metal that people use for many different products, including metal alloys in jet engines and powerful magnets. It is also common in lithium-ion batteries, which are rechargeable energy sources that power mobile devices. The rise in the prevalence of electric cars, which use the same technology, means the demand for cobalt is only rising.

What Conditions Do Children Face?

While countries like Russia and Cuba produce this ore, workers mine more than 50 percent of the world’s cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Due to this high rate of production, most of the exploitation in cobalt mines occur in this country. As mine operators struggle to keep up with demand, the poverty rate in the DRC stands at nearly 65 percent.  That means that many desperate people are willing to work in dangerous conditions for hardly any money.

In January 2016, Amnesty International published an investigation into human rights abuses in the DRC’s cobalt mines and it found horrifying conditions. Workers face permanent lung and skin damage, as well as immediate physical harm from cave-ins and other accidents. Not only that, but the investigation also found children as young as 7 years old employed in these conditions. This is how the production of smartphones harms children in poverty.

Children told Amnesty International that for 12 hours of work, they could expect to earn only $1 or 2. When government or industry authorities visited mines, supervisors order the children to hide or stay away from the mines for a few days so others would not spot them. These poor conditions and ill-policed regulations are the reasons why cobalt is known as “the blood diamond of batteries.”

How Can People Fix This Problem?

Some companies have taken the initiative to reduce child exploitation, especially in the years following the 2016 Amnesty International report. Electric car-maker Tesla and its battery provider, Panasonic, have worked hard to pursue cobalt-free battery alternatives. These companies managed to cut cobalt use by 60 percent in six years. However, current technologies have reached their limits. Removing more cobalt will start to pose a longevity problem, as well as a fire-risk.

Because cobalt will remain in use for at least the near future, it is essential to protect impoverished child workers. Most simply, because this issue seems far away, it is easy to forget its gravity. For that reason, remembering the power of consumer impact is important. Pay attention to how companies operate and support businesses that perform the necessary due diligence to run responsibly.

For example, Apple, like many large tech and development companies, has a website with details about the ethics of its supply chain. Read up on brands’ efforts, and make sure to voice any concerns (or potentially, any support) at a website like this one.

What Can People Do to Make a Personal Impact?

Direct habits also make a difference. Try to avoid buying new electronic devices if possible. There are many websites, such as Gazelle, where customers can buy like-new phones to prevent the need for mining new cobalt. Additionally, if a device bites the dust, consider recycling its components. While lithium-ion batteries cannot go into the usual blue recycling bins, resources like this one at call2recycle can help identify the most convenient option.

Lastly, consider learning more and keeping up with the latest news on the Cobalt Institute’s website. This group is a non-governmental trade association that provides information and assists in identifying and solving problems in the cobalt industry. With 62 years of experience and all of the major producers in membership, this group has great influence in these matters.

While today, the production of smartphones harms children in poverty, improving conditions are just around the corner. With responsible choices, better supply chain management and technical innovations, this problem could soon be one of the past.

– Molly Power
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Life Expectancy in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Major, violent conflict and extreme, rampant poverty have gripped the Democratic Republic of Congo, a large nation in the center of Africa. The Congolese people have faced decades of government and humanitarian failures that have greatly impacted their quality of life. These 10 facts about life expectancy in the Democratic Republic of Congo paints the circumstances the nation faces as well as the human impact of its problems.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in the Democratic Republic of Congo

  1. The Democratic Republic of Congo has a male life expectancy of 59 years of age and a female life expectancy of 62. The overall average life expectancy in the Congo in 2017 is 60 years of age. This average ranks the Congo far below the worldwide average and illustrates the dire situation in the nation.
  2. The probability of dying under five years of age is 9.1 percent. According to the World Health Organization, 91 out of 1000 births in 2017 died before reaching the age of five years old.
  3. The probability of dying between the ages of 15 and 60 is between 28.1 percent and 23.2 percent. A quarter of the population of the Congo dies before reaching 60 years old. Two hundred and thirty-two females out of 1000 die before 60 while 281 out of 1000 males die.
  4. The ongoing Congolese civil war greatly affects children. One of the most undeniable factors affecting the life expectancy of the Congolese people is the Congo Civil War. While everyone in the nation has suffered due to the conflict, the practice of child soldiers may be a reason for limited life expectancy. According to the Human Rights Watch, the Congo’s military enlisted children “between twelve and twenty years old” in its armed forces. The conditions for these child soldiers “appear to be deplorable” and leave many open to becoming “victims to epidemics.”
  5. The violence in the Congo has been widespread and devastating. The Congolese civil war and subsequent violence had been one of the worst humanitarian crises in world history until very recently. Dubbed “Africa’s World War” by observers, the war has claimed up to six million lives by both violent means and humanitarian failures. The Congolese people are still feeling the impacts of the war today as civil, governmental or health conditions are still unacceptably poor.
  6. The infant mortality rate is abnormally high. Despite the worldwide infant mortality rate decreasing dramatically due to an epic global effort, the infant mortality rate in the Democratic Republic of Congo remains a troubling sight. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 237,000 infants died in 2015. The neonatal deaths are extremely high in the Congo with 98,000 deaths in 2015.
  7. The maternal mortality rate is also much higher than the worldwide average. Childbirth remains a dangerous endeavor in the Congo with a maternal mortality rate of 693 deaths per 100,000 childbirths. The high maternal and child death rate is due, in large part, to the fact that “an estimated 70 percent of Congolese have little or no access to health care,” according to USAID. The lack of safe, quality health care for those most vulnerable in the Congo puts many mothers and children at risk.
  8. The Congo has a significant problem with many rare and preventable diseases. The overall lack of health care in the Democratic Republic of Congo has left millions vulnerable to many diseases that are not commonplace in the Western world. There were reports of malaria, leprosy and tuberculosis in 2015 with 1.6 million reports of malaria, over four thousand reports of leprosy and a tuberculosis death rate of 70 per 100,000 people.
  9. The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is improving. Despite these 10 facts about life expectancy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is hope. Thanks to an increase in global attention to the Congo, the environment for the Congolese people is improving. According to USAID, the Congo government has “increased its allocation for health in the overall country budget from 3.4 percent to 8.6 percent.” In addition to USAID providing health care services at “1.793 health facilities [and] serving over 12 million people,” health in the Congo has improved as mortality under five years of age has decreased. The percentage of vaccinated children has increased and the nation has been polio-free for years.
  10. There are many nonprofits and NGOs helping to improve the Congo including the International Rescue Committee. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been in the Congo since 1996 “providing emergency assistance and humanitarian aid to those affected by violence.” Even more than twenty years later, the IRC remains in the Congo “providing health care, shelter, water, sanitation and emergency supplies.” Organizations like the IRC have worked tirelessly to improve the Congo, and due to its hard work, it has aided 2.3 million people since it started working in the area.

The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been quite dire. The Congolese people are in desperate need of additional support, aid and attention, but there is still hope. These 10 facts about life expectancy in the Democratic Republic of Congo should draw awareness to the Congo’s situation and possibly inspire action.

– Zachery Abunemeh
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the CongoBoasting over 85 million people, Congo has struggled with political and social instability since the Belgian conquest in the early 20th century. To this day over 100 armed groups, including the Allied Democratic Forces, the Mai Mai and the Forces of the Liberation of Rwanda, are active in Congo. Against this backdrop of factionalism and violence quietly rages the second most deadly Ebola outbreak in history. Over 1,600 people have died. Despite these grim circumstances, a group of Congolese tech-savvy youth have developed an unlikely weapon against Ebola: an app they’ve called Lokole.

Fighting Ebola in Congo

Ebola is a virus that first causes fever, sore throat and muscle weakness and later progresses to vomiting, diarrhea as well as internal and external bleeding. Patients die due to dehydration and multiple organ failure. During the West African epidemic of 2014 to 2016, over 11,000 people died. During this epidemic, the investigational vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV was used to fight the outbreak in Congo. However, it was used under the compassionate use clause because the vaccine had not been commercially licensed.

In addition, the Congolese Ministry of Health is seeking medical interventions through technological tools . Through collaboration with Internews and Kinshasa Digital, it organized a hackathon in March 2019, bringing 50 students in communications, medicine, journalism and computer science together. These students were sorted into teams of approximately seven.

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. There, they came up with Lokole, the winning technology.

Introducing the Lokole App

Lokole is an Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) mobile application which “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 a lokole is a traditional Congolese drum used to transmit messages over long distances. With this app, they hope to increase communication about the spread of Ebola in Congo.

USSD technology is a text-based communication system used by Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) cellphones. Even though text-based communication might seem outdated with smartphones in the picture, smartphone use across Africa is at less than 35 percent. Plus, 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, useful and cheaper.

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. David Malaba, one of the app’s developers, says “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.”

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 Congo’s internet connectivity infrastructure.

Changing the Future of Grassroots Healthcare

Since the virus’s discovery in 1976, Congo has had 10 documented Ebola outbreaks. Years of consistent violence has led to great mistrust of government and health authorities. Such widespread mistrust of health systems makes epidemics like Ebola even harder to combat.

However, Lokole empowers the everyday Congolese with the tools to fight Ebola. It is a democratic grassroots healthcare model. In fact, large-scale telemedicine platforms, such as BabylRwanda in Rwanda, are powered by similar USSD technology. This connects the average citizen with a nurse or physician in a matter of minutes.

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

Sarah Boyer
Photo: Flickr

Cholera in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Cholera is a disease that causes diarrhea and severe vomiting which can be fatal if left untreated. Areas that suffer from famine and poor sanitation are particularly susceptible to contracting the disease and the people most likely to become ill with cholera are individuals with low immunity, malnourishment or HIV. Cholera in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is severe and requires immediate attention.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has become one of the worst victims of this disease. Less than one in seven Congolese citizens have adequate hygienic conditions, and less than half have access to clean water. These are contributors to the susceptibility of the Congolese to cholera.

Cholera in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has proved itself to be a fearsome disease. As of Jan 1, 2019, the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared cholera a nationwide epidemic. In March 2019, the Democratic Republic of Congo reported 1,016 EVD cases. These cases had a fatality rate of 62 percent and resulted in 634 deaths.

Organizations Working with the Democratic Republic of the Congo

To prevent the spreading of cholera, it is essential that the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo wash their hands, use clean bathroom facilities, eat thoroughly cooked food, have access to clean water and do not come in contact with contaminated corpses. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has partnered with numerous organizations in the hopes of implementing these changes in the country.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo teamed up with UNICEF to ensure that its people have access to clean water. UNICEF has given more than 460,000 Aquatab water-purification tablets to the country, alongside numerous water-treatment facilities along the river.

Medecins Sans Frontieres has also partnered with the Democratic Republic of the Congo to try to help the country combat its cholera crisis. MSF has set up cholera treatment units in the most affected areas of the country to ensure that constant care is available.

The World Health Organization is yet another organization that has been working alongside the Democratic Republic of the Congo to combat this disease. WHO has been trying to give technological support, send medicine and teach the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo proper hygiene techniques. It has also been attempting to gather data to quantify the disease in the hopes of getting a better understanding of it.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Immunization Plan

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s latest plan of action has been its immunization plan. Government officials have come together to give more than 800,000 individuals cholera immunizations. WHO and the United Nations have both been involved in aiding the country in carrying out this plan.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ministry of Health will carry out this program, along with further assistance from the World Health Organization and the Vaccine Alliance. Dr. Deo Nshimirimana, the World Health Organization’s Democratic Republic of Congo representative, stated, “Cholera is a preventable disease. Vaccinating people at risk in the most exposed health zones in North Kivu against cholera is a massive contribution and will protect hundreds of thousands of people.”

Cholera in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains an imminent threat, but the country has shown that it has no intention of remaining idle in this fight. The country’s ambitious plan, which went into effect on May 27, 2019, is in full swing. Only time will tell if the program is successful, but program officials continue to be optimistic.

– Gabriella Gonzalez
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Terrorism in Africa

On March 22, the Trump administration repeated its assertion that ISIS had been defeated in Syria. For the past two decades, Americans have focused exclusively on the Middle East when it comes to strategic counter-terrorism efforts. Since September 11, the U.S. military has involved itself in the affairs of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other countries in order to stamp out terrorism. However, poverty and terrorism in Africa are going unchecked.

These military campaigns and several other military operations took place during the contentious “War on Terror.” Now, nearly eighteen years after the attacks, the American public is ready to lessen its intervention in the Middle East. By announcing ISIS’ defeat and pulling the military out, the President is suggesting that the U.S.’s role in the Middle East is nearing its end.

Violent Extremists Organizations

Though leaders of terror groups, like Osama Bin Laden, can be stopped, ideologies on terrorism still hold critical importance. Professor Paul Holman of the University of Maine has been an expert and educator on terrorism and politics for nearly four decades. He did not agree that ISIS had been “defeated” in Syria. This comes down to the root of what terrorism actually is.

In correspondence with the Borgen Project, Professor Holman defines terrorism as “violence against innocent civilians for political reasons.” He notes that both governments and violent extremist organizations (VEOs), like ISIS, use terrorism to further their ideals. Though Syria is no longer under its control, ISIS is more than a national movement.

ISIS is not simply trying to seize and hold territory in Syria and Iraq. Instead, Holman notes, ISIS is a transnational movement based upon extreme religious views, which exist in many other countries. Now that the United States military has weakened many VEOs in the Middle East, where do these organizations go next? Poverty and terrorism in Africa reveal the influence of these VEOs.

The Democratic Republic of Congo

In April, Congolese President Tshisekedi discussed the future of terrorist violence in Africa: “It is easy to see how the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq could lead to a situation where these groups are now going to come into Africa and take advantage of the pervasive poverty and also the situation of chaos that we have, for example, in Beni and Butembo, to set up their caliphate.” Beni and Butembo are northeastern cities in the DRC that have faced a substantial amount of violence.

No doubt, ISIS and other VEOs are capitalizing on the extreme poverty and the chaos of certain regions in Africa. In fact, on April 16, ISIS claimed its first attack on the DRC, killing eight soldiers. A statement made by Islamic State propagandists, to take responsibility for the attack, described Congo as the “Central Africa Province of the Caliphate.” Though these attacks by extremist groups in Africa are not new, American’s realization of their strengths seems to be.

Extemists Groups Gaining Power

As poverty and instability lead to upticks in violence by VEOs, regions in Africa are becoming more susceptible to extremist attacks. For the past ten years, Islamist militant groups have been gaining ground in Africa. In 2015, in the poverty-stricken region of northern Nigeria (the largest nation within Africa), Boko Haram became “the world’s deadliest terror group” while at the same time pledging allegiance to ISIS. Though several African militaries, with aid from France and other Western countries, decimated the land control of Boko Haram, the group still maintains a strong influence within Northern Africa.

With African militaries and other nations are fighting against its influence, Boko Haram focused on the Lake Chad region that borders Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Lake Chad is not only one of the poorest regions in the world but a region that remained largely ungoverned. In 2016, Boko Haram split into two, the new group being the Islamic State of West Africa. The Islamic State of West Africa is offering protection to locals from Boko Haram in exchange for economic reimbursement.

Other extremist groups are adopting the strategy of exploiting extreme poverty as well as profiting off of regional and tribal conflicts while diseases spread. According to the Global Hunger Index, some of the hungriest places on Earth are in Africa as are also some of the least peaceful countries. Northern and Central Africa have similar scores in hunger and peace rankings to those of Syria and Iraq where extremist groups have thrived in the past.

VEOs in Nigeria and Sudan

Professor Holman identified a few African nations that are of higher risk of violent attacks by extremist groups, such as Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya and Nigeria. “The country [Nigeria] is polarized between extreme wealth and extreme poverty, suffering from endemic corruption as well as ethnic rivalries and religious differences.” Libya has been in a civil war since the Ghadaffi regime was overthrown. Sudan has had political turmoil both before and after Bashir’s regime was ousted, and Somalia has a weak government.

It is clear that these terrorist groups thrive in poverty-stricken countries fraught with political strife. Therefore, it is essential that poverty and terrorism in Africa be combatted. Governments and organizations must ensure that the innocent civilians have the education, food, water and financial stability needed to secure themselves from violent extremist groups that prey on the poor and the weak. Foreign aid along with maintaining diplomatic relationships with governments from African nations will be a huge part of that. This fosters strong governments that are able to coordinate a defense from extremist groups.

– Kurt Thiele
Photo: Flickr

Artisanal Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo is both one of the world’s most mineral-rich countries and consistently one of the poorest. The mining industry makes up a significant part of the country’s economy with over 90 percent of its revenue coming from the export of these minerals. Many of these mines in Congo are artisanal mining operations; small-scale entrepreneurial operations that often exist in a legal and economic gray zone.

The Dangers of Artisanal Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo

While mining is a dangerous job, the conditions of artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in particular, are problematic. These conditions include unsafe mining conditions for the workers, a lack of rights for those employed in many of Congo’s mines, as well as permanent environmental damage coming from mining methods. Further, the unregulated nature of the artisanal and small scale mining industry can lead to the proliferation of issues like child labor and conflict resources.

A lack of appropriate safety equipment is an endemic issue in many mines. Many of the resources that miners extract is toxic. Air quality is a consistent issue and face masks are rarely available. Gold, copper, cobalt and other dust pose numerous health issues. Heavy metal dust can lead to respiratory issues, and one can easily absorb the fine particles of these toxic metals through the skin, causing numerous problems. Mine conditions are also dark and dangerous. Long hours and a lack of structural reinforcement in the mines mean that accidents are common and tunnel collapses are not infrequent.

Artisanal Mining Impacts the Environment

Environmental issues are also a great concern. Chinese mining companies are particularly egregious when it comes to a lack of environmental awareness. Many companies make promises to pay for environmental restoration for the area when a mining operation shuts down. Wastewater runoff, heavy with toxic minerals, often destroys the livelihoods of those that originally lived near a mining site. The environmental destruction turns once arable land fallow. Moreover, some companies intentionally mislead local communities about their impact, both environmentally as well as economically.

Can Artisanal Mining Help People?

However, one should note that artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo is not inherently problematic all on its own. Small-scale mines can help pull people out of poverty when they function properly and regulate efficiently.

An International Conference on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining and Quarrying occurred in Livingstone, Zambia, in September 2018. One of the key things that came out of the three-day event was the Mosi-oa-Tunya Declaration at the end of the conference, which called for the recognition and regulation of artisanal mines. The declaration stated that improvements must happen in general regulation to formalize and stabilize the artisanal mining industry. Amongst these reforms, a call for the improvement of the status of women in mines and for the reduction of child labor stood out. These reforms need to also consider the economic, societal and regulatory realities. The Mosi-oa-Tunya Declaration also called for supply chain integration to occur to help highlight the opportunities to eliminate money laundering and the exploitation of workers through conflict resources. Resource scarcity and ever-increasing prices for minerals also help drive reforms. The German automaker BMW partnered with the Swedish chemical company BASF, as well as Korean electronics firm Samsung and GIZ GmbH, a German aid and development organization. The companies engaged in a pilot program to push for mine reforms at a cobalt mine in Congo in order to improve efficiencies and consolidate BMW’s cobalt supply chain. If the program succeeds, it will expand to other mines and other materials.

The US Makes Legislative Moves

The U.S. made significant legislative moves to help combat the most abusive practices in artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While people mostly know the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act for its Wall Street reforms and various consumer protections in the financial services sector, it also has provisions surrounding the tracing of the most common conflict materials: columbite-tantalite, cassiterite, gold and wolframite, which are metals key to tech and jewelry manufacturing. While companies do not have to proactively and publicly make a declaration about the status of the sourcing resources, they must track the sourcing of these materials. If the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) request it, companies must also be able to provide proof that they did their due diligence to ensure that the resources used were conflict-free.

There is no penalty for the use of conflict resources, however, nor is there a ban from the use of minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some believed that this disclosure alone would create public pressure to move away from conflict resources from the region. However, after a 2012 ruling in a case brought by the National Association of Manufacturers, the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable against the SEC, the original mandatory disclosures significantly changed after it found that it violated the First Amendment. Indeed, manufacturers have to disclose that their products are DRC conflict-free if they cannot ensure a conflict-free status proactively.

Further, there are many academics and think tanks that study this issue. Tom Burgis, for instance, suggests that to fix the problems in artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other underdeveloped countries, Congo has to stop exporting its resources. He believes that only by keeping the resources within the country and shifting the country’s economy toward manufacturing goods made of those extracted resources, can the so-called resource curse break so that the lives of those working in the mines can become better.

John Dolan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons