Save a Mom's Life in the Congo

by International Medical Corps
Recipients of support draft thank you letter
Recipients of support draft thank you letter

While International Medical Corps is still very active in the Democratic Republic of Congo this will be the final update for this project. We will continue to address the needs of mothers in the DRC through our primary health care support programs and other specifically focused efforts. Below is a recent update on the ongoing primary health care support we are providing. To continue further supporting International Medical Corps efforts in the DRC please visit our “Empower a Girl in the Congo” project that will continue to highlight our behavior change efforts aimed at addressing gender based violence in the region.

Update on Primary Health Support

Ntoto is a health area in the Kibua health zone of the Walikale Territory in North Kivu Province of the DRC. The Ntoto health area has a population of about 10,413 inhabitants. Recently Ntoto has been experiencing clashes between two armed groups with major confrontations occurring in May and December 2014 and in June 2015. Whenever there are clashes populations are displaced. During the last confrontation, the health center was looted of all its property including drugs, health care materials and equipment.

The population displaced following the June 2015 clashes is returning to their impoverished and destroyed communities with no means to access basic health care. Because of these challenges, International Medical Corps traveled to this community in particular to conduct an assessment and on the 29th of September, International Medical Corps organized a mobile clinic in Ntoto. During this mobile clinic, 377 consultations were facilitated (122 Men and 235 Women). At the end of the mobile clinic in this community, representatives of the community addressed a letter to International Medical Corps expressing their thanks for coming to their assistance.

“…the health center was looted during the clashes of June 6, 2015 which caused a loss of 15 mattresses, medicines and some care equipment…

Patients have to pay for care and since many are unable to pay, they are forced to resort to traditional healers. They can’t bring their children to the health center. We thank International Medical Corps for its constant support in our community. Since the confrontations of last December, women were not able to deliver their babies in the health center and we registered 5 deaths due to home deliveries. We thank International Medical Corps for the mobile clinic here in Ntoto and the health care to returning populations”. (Bahati, a 35 year old mother of 5 children)

It is thanks to the generous support of GlobalGiving and other donors that International Medical Corps is able to provide these life-saving interventions and will continue to do so going forward.

Volunteers in Ntoto transport medical equipment
Volunteers in Ntoto transport medical equipment

Reaching most parts of Walikale territory is difficult, particularly in Kibua health zone, in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). If health centers are hard to reach, people don’t have ready access to specialized services such as obstetric emergency and newborn care – and doctors and nurses don’t have the medicines, medical supplies and equipment they need to deliver quality services to the local population. The most affected areas are those which are only accessible on foot. International Medical Corps assists in mobilizing the communities served by these health centers to help transport medicine, medical supplies and equipment. For those living in the area, these health centers are the only reasonable means of support so it is critical that they are adequately equipped.

Ntoto is one such health facility, located 82 km (or two days’ walk) from the main referral hospital in Kibua town. It serves a population of more than 10,000 people and is the only health center that offers emergency obstetric care including caesarean sections. After being vandalized in December 2014 and again in February of 2015, it was left with no medicines or supplies and the major equipment was either damaged or stolen. International Medical Corps, in coordination with local community partners, conducted an assessment to identify the urgent needs of the hospital. International Medical Corps used that information to purchase everything the referral health center needed to continue to provide lifesaving health care services to the population.

Because of the difficulties in getting the materials to the health center, International Medical Corps sought the help of a United National Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) helicopter to transport more than 350kg of maternity equipment, surgical kits, medicine and supplies to Ntoto. More than 15 community members were at the airstrip to offload the materials and carry them to the health center.

Community leaders continue to advocate with rebel groups to keep away from hospitals and health centers to avoid future vandalism. Since the arrival of the equipment in the health facility, Ntoto has been able to provide successful emergency obstetric care to five pregnant women experiencing complications. During the last conflict, the health facility lost nothing.

Thanks to the generous support of GlobalGiving and other donors, International Medical Corps is able to continue meeting the needs of mothers and soon-to-be mothers in Eastern DRC. This lifesaving support is critically needed in the region and will have a lasting impact on the lives and heath of women and infants.

Supervision of transport from Goma to Ntoto
Supervision of transport from Goma to Ntoto
Newborn baby is received at Karete health center
Newborn baby is received at Karete health center

The presence of armed groups in Eastern DRC has resulted in devastating abuse, violence and looting of resources, leaving families in an unstable economic situation. Displaced populations cannot afford to meet basic needs like primary health care and, due to insecurity in the region, pregnant women can’t access health facilities for the delivery of their children. As mothers and newborns are exposed to the risk of contamination when delivery occurs at home, they are at increased risk for maternal and neonatal mortality. To help ensure that the lives of the mother and the child are safe, International Medical Corps provides clean delivery kits to pregnant women during antenatal care visits.

In the first three months of 2015, close to 2,000 pregnant women received clean delivery kits provided by International Medical Corps in health facilities in Walikale, Kibua and Itebero health zones.

In Karete village, Gisele, who received a clean delivery kit, says “I am happy to receive this clean delivery kit provided by International Medical Corps. I will use it when I will give birth. My baby and I will be healthy and safe. I was wondering who would care for me, I was wondering what I should use when I will give birth. My husband and I are from Masisi and we have no means of paying for essential needs”

To further address barriers to accessing quality reproductive health care, International Medical Corps has put in place a referral system for emergency obstetrics cases in the 30 areas in Walikale, Kibua, Walikale and Itebero health zones. With International Medical Corps’ support, every month approximately 80 pregnant women benefit from free transportation to hospitals and referral health centers along with free obstetric care upon arrival.

“I was referred for complications during delivery in my village Malembe, almost at night. I was transported to Karete reference health center and received free and appropriate medical care. Thanks so much to International Medical Corps and health providers of Karete. I can’t believe my baby and I are safe and are not charged anything for all the attention given in this health center. Thank you so much,” said Yvonne from Malembe.

Thanks to the generous support of GlobalGiving and other donors, International Medical Corps is able to continue meeting the needs of mothers and soon-to-be mothers in Eastern DRC. This lifesaving support is critically needed in the region and will have a lasting impact for generations to come.

Gisele receives her delivery kit
Gisele receives her delivery kit
Innocent performing a test at Ndofia health center
Innocent performing a test at Ndofia health center

Reproductive health continues to be urgently needed in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and is an area where International Medical Corps continues to respond. Along with ongoing Basic Emergency Obstetric Care training in Eastern DRC clean delivery kits have also been procured and mobilized for distribution. In November of 2014, 16 midwifes in Itebero health zone received this training and 5,090 clean delivery kits were procured and sent to the Walikale, Itebero and Kibua health zones to be distributed. Through the fall of 2014 International Medical Corps also supported transportation and obstetric care for 29 pregnant women with obstetric complications. Another vital focus area for International Medical Corps in this region is the training of skilled laboratory assistants.

International Medical Corps organized training for eight laboratory technicians from the Walikale, Itebero and Kibua health zones. This training was focused on utilization of rapid tests for malaria, diabetes, syphilis and pregnancies.  The practical part of the training was conducted at the Walikale General Hospital where participants learned how to receive and register patients, analyze samples, monitor and give tests results while ensuring all records are kept safely.

The following is the first hand account of Innocent, a trained laboratory assistant of Ndofia Health center.

“I have learned to conduct urine and blood tests for syphilis, diabetes and malaria during the International Medical Corps training. Prior to this training, I used to treat patients based on the signs and symptoms of the disease with no accuracy. I now realize that I could have been treating the wrong diseases since there was no confirmation of what I was treating. Thanks to International Medical Corps, I am now confident regarding the treatment that I give. I can conduct rapid tests and confirm the disease and give appropriate treatment.’’

With the support of Global Giving and other donors International Medical Corps is able to support reproductive health in a holistic fashion by facilitating the broader health needs of mothers before, during and after pregnancy.

Practical learning at Walikale General Hospital
Practical learning at Walikale General Hospital

Holistic programming has been a key component of International Medical Corps’ Care, Access, Safety and Empowerment (CASE) program in Eastern Congo. The goal of the program is: “to protect vulnerable populations from physical violence and abuse to assist the Congo in its stabilization and gradual transition from a post conflict country to a developing one.” The program aims to increase access to and quality of medical, psychosocial, social, legal and economic services for survivors of sexual and gender based violence, and build community capacities to reduce vulnerability to future acts of violence and was designed to respond to widespread sexual violence in Eastern Congo which was greatly attributed to civil strife and presence of numerous armed groups who use rape as a weapon of war. Our holistic programs provide women with various types of support at local community centers. One specific area of support that has been much needed in the region is legal services. The following is one women’s story of how these services truly saved her life and gave her hope for her future as well as for her children’s future.

“I was raped twice in a span of one year. The incidences left me with severe abdominal pains and abandoned by my husband who was too ashamed to stay with me. He married another woman to replace me and often insulted and beat me up. To him, I was no longer his wife but the wife of the interhamwe. I was often humiliated, left without food and forced to continue working as a porter despite my medical condition. I had to otherwise my children would starve. I was all they had.

I got an unexpected visit one day from a woman to whom I described my illness. She referred me to the hospital and encouraged me to join other women at the community center. When I went to the community center, I found out that there was a woman who assisted people who had problems. I started talking to the woman and she made me realize that what I went through was not my fault. She continued to help me have a different perception of myself, to stop thinking of myself as worthless but someone who is useful in the community. But how does one continue with life if her husband has brought another woman to live with her in the same house and is insulted and beaten almost daily?  After a few months, I went to see the lawyer at the community center and told him my problem. He called my husband and some family members for mediation. With the help of the lawyer, my husband stopped beating and insulting me. There was some peace. I received a kit with materials to start a small business. As the business grew, I gained more confidence because I was no longer relying on people to feed my children when my husband did not provide me with money. I feel I have my dignity back because I am no longer begging for anything. Sometimes I remember the incidences I went through and I choose not to have negative feelings about them anymore. I look to the future and see myself as a strong woman who is contributing to the positive development of her children.”

With the generous support of Global Giving and other donors International Medical Corps is able to bring this life-giving hope to the women of the Congo who need it most.


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Organization Information

International Medical Corps

Location: Los Angeles, CA - USA
Website: https:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Los Angeles, CA United States

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