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With its 2.3 million square kilometres of surface area, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second biggest country on the African continent.
In this huge state, home to more than 106 million people, 73% of the population is living under the poverty line, and almost 1 in 4 children is dying of causes linked to malnutrition. Action contre la Faim has been working with populations for over 20 years to respond to nutritional emergencies.
Action contre la Faim’s emergency base in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was set up in 1999. Its emergency mobile nutrition and health teams, which have existed in their current form since 2010, have been deployed in 24 of its 26 provinces, thanks to support from the FCDO through the PUNC programme, later renamed PUNCH. ‘We operate in rural, isolated areas that are hard to access. The malnutrition we see is primarily down to structural causes, such as lack of hygiene and sanitation infrastructures, lack of access to clean drinking water, and supply problems with food and non-food items, with roads that can’t be used by lorries. Epidemics, especially rubella, are also factors that lead to acute malnutrition’, details Marie Lamothe, the field coordinator at the emergency base.
Mobile emergency teams are mobilised when nutrition alerts are declared. In each of the country’s health zones, two or three medical centres – monitoring centres – share data on their admissions with Pronanut. This Congolese organisation then publishes a quarterly bulletin, the SNSAP, which defines the zones on high alert. ‘Out of 450 health zones, on average, 150 are on high alert’, Marie explains. ‘Our first job is to narrow these 150 down to the 2 that are most critical. We then submit our decision to a validation committee, which includes Pronanut and the nutrition cluster, and once it is validated, we start to conduct nutritional monitoring surveys’.
‘Every year, we launch four operations, each lasting six months. Specifically, that equates to care for 10,000 children suffering from malnutrition and 60,000 consultations for childhood diseases, such as malaria and acute respiratory infections’. The teams also organise community mobilisation activities to inform families, leaders and health agents about detecting malnutrition and best feeding practices for infants and young children.
‘Our interventions reach vulnerable people in areas where no one else goes. We are particularly proud of the commitment shown by our colleagues in the mobile teams. Going far away from home for six months can be hard, but it’s gratifying to see that we are having a concrete impact. Some of our collaborators have been working with us for twelve years’, Marie says with a smile.
In early 2021, following a six-month emergency intervention and in light of needs on the ground, Action contre la Faim decided to open a base in the city of Mbuji-Mayi in the Kasaï-Oriental province. According to an Action contre la Faim survey, 17.9% of children aged under five examined were suffering from acute malnutrition, and 6.9%, from severe acute malnutrition.
Again with support from the FCDO’s PUNCH programme, the Action contre la Faim teams launched a three-year project that aimed to prevent and treat malnutrition in the Nzaba and Bonzola health zones, while strengthening local organisations’ capacities.
Démagoré Gnamou is the manager of this nutrition and health programme: ‘We came to the area to help the health system, and we work with local agents. We know that every project has to come to an end, so we have to work with partners so that they have the tools to take over from us’.
In total, thirty-four medical centres and two general referral hospitals – Bonzola and Tudikolela – are receiving support. Some of the tasks being carried out to help to guarantee high-quality care for children and pregnant and breastfeeding women include the renovation and construction of latrines, showers, waste pits and impluvia; the training and supervision of health care staff; and the provision of equipment, medicines and nutritional treatments.
As well as treatment of severe acute malnutrition, care for childhood diseases in general is provided. Children under the age of five receive free care in these medical centres. The medicines and equipment given to medical centres make it possible to provide free care for these children.
Democratic Republic of Congo
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