European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

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Providing Free Healthcare in the Democratic Republic of Congo and preparing Communities for Coronavirus

Nearly 40,000 people have benefitted from free and high-quality health care provided in eastern DRC by People in Need (PIN) with EU humanitarian support. © Zawadi Izabayo, PIN, 2020

Over the past 10 years, the Lemera Health Zone in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been the site of numerous conflicts between armed groups, leading to the frequent displacement of civilians. The majority of the population does not have access to basic healthcare, and there are shortages of essential medicines at medical facilities, which are able to provide only limited support for victims of sexual and gender-based violence. As a result, the health of people living in this remote area has deteriorated significantly, even when compared to other parts of South Kivu Province.

Text and photos by: Zawadi Izabayo, PIN DRC Communication Officer, April 2020

Children in the Lemera Health Zone are struggling as well; nearly 10 percent of children under the age of five suffer from acute undernutrition, and a staggering 34 percent who seek treatment never recover. To help improve these conditions, People in Need (PIN) teamed up with Doctors of the World Belgium to improve access to and the quality of primary healthcare services, and to provide nutrition treatment to the most vulnerable people in the Katala, Mulengue, and Ndegu health areas. Thanks to EU humanitarian aid funding, PIN has been supporting communities in the Lemera Health Zone since June 2019.

With EU humanitarian aid support, PIN delivers medicines and equipment to local health facilities, and supports the hiring of local doctors, midwives, and nutritional nurses, who help ensure that services are delivered at a high standard. “Over 30,900 people – including children under the age of five, and pregnant and breastfeeding women – have directly benefited from the free and high-quality healthcare we are providing,” says PIN DRC Program Manager Sébastien Kervyn, who adds that returnees to the area or people who have been displaced by conflict are the most vulnerable.

The programme is also committed to community health and outreach through the provision of screenings for Severe Acute Malnutrition and educational activities to raise public awareness on topics such as breastfeeding and Ebola. “We are also working to improve hygiene through the distribution of sanitation materials, the restoration of health facilities, and enhanced waste management to prevent and control the transmission of infections,” says Kervyn.

Preparing health centres and communities to prevent the spread of coronavirus

Coronavirus prevention messages and handwashing stations at the entrance of health centres in the Lemera Health Zone are some of the adaptations being made to help protect beneficiaries and staff, as part of the support provided by PIN with EU humanitarian aid funding. ©  Zawadi Izabayo, PIN, 2020

The situation has become even more difficult due to the coronavirus outbreak. “At this stage there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Lemera Health Zone, but our intervention has been adjusted in line with international and national measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” says Sébastien Kervyn. Concretely, it means that all mass awareness-raising activities were suspended and individual counselling is prioritised.

The exterior of the health centres has been arranged in a way that patients will not be gathered in crowds and cannot enter the centre in groups. People are entering the facility one by one in order to respect a safe physical distance and to avoid grouping in waiting rooms.

“We are installing handwashing points at the entrance and inside the health centres, and facilities are receiving hygienic materials like soap, water buckets and more,” Sébastien Kervyn explains, continuing that “Personal protective equipment like masks have been distributed to health care providers and hydro-alcoholic gel will be delivered to places where there is no water.”

Training community leaders on coronavirus prevention measures is part of the effort to have these messages conveyed to communities.  ©  Zawadi Izabayo, PIN, 2020

Health centres are also getting prepared to treat people who may have coronavirus. “Health centres are using electronic thermometers for temperature screening and subsequent sorting of patients. In case the patient is symptomatic and at risk, the person will be isolated in a ventilated room installed in the health centre, and care will always take place at the facility level,” Kervyn explains. “If cases of COVID-19 are confirmed, the health department of the province will be alerted,” he adds.

The focus is also on prevention and awareness-raising at community level. Posters in Swahili on coronavirus are outside health centres and in strategic locations in the community. All project staff and health care providers of the community have been briefed while community leaders have been trained to sensitise the community about the coronavirus and how to prevent it.  Working with communities remains an essential tool to have them on board in all prevention and control measures.

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