Save a Mom's Life in the Congo

by International Medical Corps
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.

Midwife and patients at Walikale General Hospital
Midwife and patients at Walikale General Hospital

Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is marked by the presence of numerous armed groups, particularly in North and South Kivu, who fight for control of the country’s vast natural resources (including gold, diamonds and rare earth minerals), terrorizing civilians and causing millions to suffer from ongoing conflict and displacement. The fighting causes massive population movement from areas where there is active fighting to areas of relative calm. Besides the risk of losing their lives, internally displaced persons (IDPs) also lose their property, means of livelihood and social support networks as families disperse, rendering them more vulnerable.

International Medical Corps currently supports 68 clinics and hospitals in North and South Kivu, providing medical supplies, training for health workers, and referral and transfer for patients in need of advanced care. In areas with no clinics, International Medical Corps runs mobile medical units to give vulnerable populations access to vital health care services. We also deliver health care in three transit camps for refugees returning to their home villages. In addition to supporting existing health facilities and providing mobile medical services, International Medical Corps works in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and non-governmental organizations to increase the number of well-trained health professionals in DRC, including midwives.

Midwives have been of great support to health centers and community in Walikale, and provide safe delivery and essential newborn care, helping to ensure women are healthy and giving their babies a better opportunity to grow into healthy children and adults. Not only do midwives support mothers from maternity to birth, but they also deliver comprehensive sexual reproductive health services including:  counselling; malaria treatment during pregnancy; and services to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission.

The impact of their work is vital to building healthy communities -- the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Confederation of Midwives assert that midwives can prevent up to 90 percent of maternal deaths where they are authorized to practice their competencies, and play a full role during pregnancy, childbirth and after birth (UNFPA, 2010). Giving birth without professional assistance increases the risk of developing complications such as fistula and infections that could affect either the mother or the child and lead to maternal and infant death. Midwives trained by International Medical Corps possess the skills needed to be their own best “First Responders” – helping women avoid or treat complications and deliver healthy babies.

Anastaticia, whose life was saved by an International Medical Corps-trained midwife in Eastern DRC, explained her potentially life-threatening situation; “I started labor at home, called for help and a friend came to assist. She, however, could not complete the delivery. I had to be rushed to the health center not far from my village for emergency assistance. The midwife at the health center was able to stop the bleeding and save the life of my baby, and I woke up to see my baby next to me. During the process, I was diagnosed as having developed a fistula, and had surgery to repair it 6 months later.  The experience at the health center and the support from the midwives helped save my life and the life of my baby.’’

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Organization Information

International Medical Corps

Location: Los Angeles, CA - USA
Project Leader:
Los Angeles, CA United States