International Medical Corps prioritizes reproductive health services and family planning in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gynecological and obstetric care is especially important in this area where 98% of all obstetric complications result from either sub-par medical care or rape. By increasing the quality and availability of reproductive and maternal health care, as well as the uptake of these services, International Medical Corps has significantly improved long-term health outcomes for women and children in DRC. Our goal is to save the lives of mothers by providing the care they need before a medical emergency arises.
Safe Motherhood through CycleBeads:
Faida, also known as Mama Sammy, is 25 years old and has been married to her husband Sammy since 2010. She lives in the village of Kabusa, located in the Walikale territory in Eastern DRC. Over the course of two years, she suffered a devastating loss after experiencing two miscarriages. The suspected cause was poor spacing between her pregnancies. This is her story:
“I gave birth to a baby and got pregnant after three months. As I was trying to keep the pregnancy and take care of the child, the first one passed away. I also miscarried the second one ... I was astonished and stressed because I could not understand the situation.
I discussed with my husband who was also concerned about the loss of our two babies and was worried about the opinion of the community. We decided to try to avoid frequent pregnancies, but my husband never wanted medications or any chemicals. So, we tried the natural way on our own but with many worries because we had no tools for counting.
I convinced my husband to consult the medical Director of Kabusa Health Clinic and follow prenatal consultation as advised by my mother because she trusted the midwife trained at Kabusa.
We luckily meet Mr. Ngoko Lipanda Andree, the medical director of the clinic. He explained to us several methods of family planning that we could use to avoid the risks of death of the child and the mother. One of these options was CycleBeads® which my husband really liked. It was a natural option we both appreciated.
Since we started using the method we have never experienced unwanted pregnancies.
We now enjoy life with our 1 year and 3 month old baby without any more worries.”
Note on CycleBeads® and The Standard Days Method®:
"The Standard Days Method® is a fertility awareness-based family planning method that identifies a fixed fertile window for women with cycles that are between 26 and 32 days long. For women with cycles in this range, the method identifies days 8 through 19 as potentially fertile days. A user simply tracks the start date of her period and the days of her cycle to know if she is on a day when pregnancy is possible or not.
Researchers at the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University developed this family planning method and tested it in large-scale clinical trials. It is proven to be more than 95% effective at preventing pregnancy and with the right tools, is very easy to use.
If a woman wants to prevent pregnancy using this family planning method, then she should avoid intercourse or use a back-up birth control method such as condoms during her fertile days (days 8-19). The patented CycleBeads® tools help a woman use this method by tracking her cycle, identifying her fertile and non-fertile days based on when her period started, and confirming that her cycles are in range for effective use of this family planning method. (Source: www.cyclebeads.com)"
Blandine Butundi, 18 years old and expecting, was suffering from a life-threatening pregnancy complication.
“My first three months of pregnancy were the heaviest weight I carried since I was born …. the midwife of our Mundindi Health Clinic advised me to consult a doctor in Walikale [the regional capital]. I felt very heavy, yet I was only three months along.
One day I felt dizzy and collapsed at the house door. I was rushed to Walikale General Hospital on a motorbike, not knowing which world I was in. My heart was beating so fast and I felt very thirsty. I was sweating heavily. In the consultation room the midwife just said: ‘You are a lucky lady, you met the specialist in women’s care.’ It was Dr. Kennedy [head of obstetric surgery].
I was given an injection, and the only thing I remembered was the doctor telling me: ‘Something is wrong Blandine, we have to remove whatever is inside your stomach before serious damages occur.’ The rest of the story I was told by my mother.”
Blandine had suffered a miscarriage, and she needed surgery or would face infection and possible death. Thanks to the intervention of Dr. Kennedy Musavuli, she will soon be able to return home in good health. Dr. Kennedy, who received training in emergency obstetrical care and fistula care from International Medical Corps, was able to diagnose the miscarriage and conduct the necessary surgical procedure that saved Blandine’s life.
“The training we received with the support of International Medical Corps shaped our knowledge and experience much more,” said Dr. Kennedy. “Personally, I am so thankful to International Medical Corps for health support in many ways.”
Blandine is also thankful for the support of the skilled surgeons, and expects to return home from the hospital in the upcoming days.
“I have nothing to give to this doctor,” she notes. ”He is such a blessing to the Walikale people, a person who does things with his heart. If he was not there… I was already dead, my mother said. Now I am feeling like a normal person and I hope soon I will get back to my house.”
As part of its safe motherhood initiative, International Medical Corps trained surgical staff from the general hospitals at Walikale and Chambucha,located in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in emergency obstetric surgery to address health issues such as Blandine’s.
In Blandine’s home territory of Walikale, International Medical Corps also recently organized trainings for frontline healthcare workers, such as the midwife in Mundindi who referred Blandine to a doctor, to recognize danger signs during pregnancy, ultimately benefiting over 33,000 women in the area.
International Medical Corps’ two Reproductive Health Complexes in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are equipped to provide the highest level of gynecological and obstetric surgical care. Located in Chambucha and Kalonge, this project has helped to improve the health and well-being of 70,000 women of child-bearing age.
A strong stigma surrounds gender-based violence (GBV), which prevents many women from going to a health facility to avoid drawing attention to their situation. Less than 1% of rape victims arrive at a health facility within 72 hours of the attack, making it difficult to prevent sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS with post-exposure prophylaxis, and reducing chances of preventing pregnancy with emergency contraception.
International Medical Corps’ project helped address these needs by establishing a well-equipped facility in accessible locations that are staffed by trained, qualified medical personnel who can now provide a wide range of maternal and reproductive health services, including prenatal and postnatal care, emergency obstetric care, fistula and other gynecological surgeries, clinical care for sexual assault survivors, and education and counseling on family planning and other reproductive and maternal health issues. In coordination with the provincial government, International Medical Corps has successfully trained 171 health workers in primary health care, pregnancy risk, family planning and reproductive health, and emergency obstetrical care. With these skills, they will not only provide treatment but also prevent the development of complex reproductive health problems.
International Medical Corps also strengthened 65 health facilities in order to provide quality healthcare to GBV survivors, while 460 medical and paramedical service providers were trained in evidence-based clinical care for sexual assault survivors.
To promote women’s rights and protection at the community level, International Medical Corps supported the creation of four Gender Task Forces in accessible health areas in the project area. The task forces carried out monthly meetings with International Medical Corps’ guidance to find solutions to identified practices that increase vulnerabilities to GBV, and improve awareness and suggest actions to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality. The traditional birth attendants in these communities supported by International Medical Corps took a strong lead in the task force activities.
International Medical Corps continues to be committed to improving the lives of women and children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We thank you for your continued commitment, as well.
Over the last two years, International Medical Corps has built two Reproductive Health Complexes in Kalonge and Chambucha, the first facilities of their kind to provide fistula repair. The complexes serve over 70,000 women.
Over 98% of all fistulas (gynecological ruptures) in DRC are caused by a lack of proper obstetric care. Indeed, every pregnancy carries some risk: 15% of all pregnancies have a life-threatening complication requiring emergency obstetric care. Access to qualified medical facilities and care is crucial for all pregnant women, as they are susceptible to preventable disease, disability, and death. The success of emergency maternal and reproductive medical interventions relies as much on well-equipped facilities and well-trained personnel as it does on timeliness. At the Reproductive Health Complexes, women can get the proper care to prevent and treat fistulas and other obstetric complications.
In addition to general reproductive health care at the two Reproductive Health Complexes, women can also seek treatment for sexual gender-based violence. 1,762 sexual gender-based violence survivors received care at 65 supported health facilities, and 842 survivors were provided with post-exposure prophylaxis. The stigma surrounding sexual gender-based violence is strong, and often prevents women from going to a health facility for care as they want to prevent drawing attention to their situation.
International Medical Corps' efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo would not have been possible without your help. We thank you for your generosity as we continue our focus on women in the DRC, and we welcome your continued support.
Following heavy fighting with government forces, a Congolese rebel group has seized control of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in eastern DRC and home to one million people. More than 25,000 people have fled Goma so far, as have 60,000 refugees from a nearby camp—adding to the 1.6 million people already displaced in eastern DRC after 15 years of civil war.
With over 700,000 civilians now at risk from the escalated violence, International Medical Corps is preparing an emergency response and engaging with humanitarian partners on the ground to assess critical needs. Anticipating shortages of essential medicines and supplies, we are also mobilizing resources to get urgent pharmaceutical and medical supplies to where they are needed.
International Medical Corps always does what it takes to reach those most in need, wherever they are. In eastern DRC, we work in some of the most remote and volatile areas, often where the presence of other international organizations is extremely limited or non-existent. We prioritize women and children’s health, as they tend to be most vulnerable—making up 80% of refugees and internally displaced people worldwide.
Further, in a crisis or refugee situation, one in five women of childbearing age is likely to be pregnant, while access to critical health services becomes extremely limited. As a donor to our “Save a Mom’s Life in the Congo” project, we know that women and children’s health is very important to you. Help us make sure that mothers and children in the Congo continue to receive the lifesaving health services they need—even in the midst of conflict—by contributing to our emergency response in DRC. As always, thank you for your invaluable support for the people of DRC and International Medical Corps’ work in this war-torn country.
Learn more about our emergency response in DRC.
International Medical Corps began working in DRC in 1999 and has since served approximately two million people, 80 percent of them displaced by the war. Today, we provide health care, nutrition, food security, sexual violence prevention and treatment, and water and sanitation services.
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Resource Development Officer