When we meet them in the Vuhovi health centre, Dr. Adelard Nzanzu Malambo and Dr. Matondo Kinduelo are engaged in a lively discussion on the fight against child mortality. Dr. Nzanzu is the chief physician for the health zone of Vuhovi, in the northern part of the North-Kivu region, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He listens attentively to his colleague who has come from the Kongo Central province, in the far west of the country, to support him in the implementation of the accelerated framework for reducing infant, child and maternal mortality.
The key to the programme against child mortality
The Congolese government’s pilot programme, put in place with the support of UNICEF in the health zone of Mbanza Ngungu in Kongo Central has been a success. On the basis of this experience, the programme has also been implemented in North-Kivu and in many other provinces, thanks to support from the European Union.
Dr. Nzanzu understands well the importance of the programme’s community foundation:
Without ownership by the community, the results would not be visible.
« This is why, from the start, we began by informing community animation cells. These cells are made up of elected members of the communities. They play a central role in educating households and communities on issues related to health and the rights of the child. When we spoke to them about the programme on child and maternal mortality reduction and the will of the government to introduce it into their communities, members of the cells reacted enthusiastically. They were immediately on board. »
Dr. Nzanzu also emphasized the gratitude shown by a public that is no longer forced to always buy medication for common ailments like fever and diarrhoea. His colleague in Kongo Central joins him in confirming how crucial it is that the community has ownership of the programme:
The community animation cells and the community relays were critical for the programme’s success in Mbanza Ngungu, and they continue to be so today.
The challenges in the fight against child mortality in DRC
104children die before the age of 5 for every 1,000 live birthThe Democratic Republic of the Congo has been successful in considerably reducing child mortality in recent years. Nevertheless, the country continues to face very high infant and youth mortality rates, the majority of which could be avoided: 104 for every 1,000 live births. DRC is one of the six countries making up 50% of the world’s total deaths of children under five years old. Therefore, efforts to reduce child mortality in the country must be continued.
The programme being implemented in Vuhovi and in five other health zones in North-Kivu with funding from the European Union tackles the bottlenecks, which explain the high rates of child and maternal mortality in DRC. It focuses on six action strategies: universal healthcare coverage, support for the continuity of care, improving the governance of health services, strengthening healthcare personnel, communication for development, and community engagement.
Family kits to treat childhood diseases
Rose Nkiko, one of the doctors of the UNICEF team who also follows the implementation of the programme in North-Kivu, goes over the next stages of the programme’s launch with her colleagues. Dr. Nzanzu updates her: « We completed the counting of the target population and counted 22,556 children under the age of five and 4,777 pregnant women. » Dr. Nkiko concludes: « This is the number of family kits for diseases of children under the age of 5 and for pregnant women, which will be distributed to families over the next few weeks. » The distribution of these family kits is undoubtedly the most visible and innovative aspect of the programme.
The family kit for young children is distributed to each household with at least one child under the age of five. Each kit contains basic medicines to fight deadly diseases in DRC. These medicines allow families themselves to control fever caused by malaria, acute respiratory infections and to prevent dehydration caused by diarrhoea. The addition of multi micronutrients can prevent malnutrition, which affects a large number of children.
Kits for maternal health
In addition to kits dealing with childhood diseases, a childbirth kit will also be made available; it is for pregnant women and it will guarantee for each recipient a secure and clean childbirth. The childbirth kit also contains two important documents; the authorization letter to allow for the Civil Status registration of the new-born and the indispensable programme tool on the stages of labour.
Access to healthcare is prioritized for pregnant women and for children under the age of five by the introduction of a reduced fee, which resulted from a consensus between the public, health structures and the health Zone.
Dr. Nzanzu is looking forward to moving on to the next phase of the programme in his health zone and to the arrival of the family kits: « Our community relays are ready to start distributing kits in each of the 50 households for which they are responsible and which they will closely follow. » A beautiful adventure is beginning in Vuhovi; an adventure with the most beautiful goal: saving the lives of children.
Funding the fight against mother and child mortality
The CAO4&5 programme of the Congolese government has been set up with the support of UNICEF, the World Bank, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Global Fund. For its implementation, UNICEF is supported by the European Union and, notably, Sweden.
Cover photo: UNICEF DRC 2015 Gwenn Dubourthoumieu
Post translated by Lisa Berthelot
Yves Willemot est le chef de l’Équipe InfoCom de l’UNICEF RDC. Plus que tout, ce qui est important pour lui c'est d'être "tous ensemble pour les enfants".
Yves Willemot is Head of the UNICEF DRC InfoCom Team. More than anything, he believes that the most important is to "be together for the children".
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