MSF decries pathetic health situation in DR Congo

By Henry Neondo

MSF finds catastrophic health situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in spite of political transition.

Excess mortality, absence of medical care, and exclusion from care for a
majority of patients where it does exist is the situation prevalent in most of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Although peace has returned to much of the DRC, the health situation of the Congolese people today remains alarming. Far from improving, it has worsened in certain regions of the country, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) highlights in its latest report, 'Access to healthcare, mortality and violence in the DRC'.

A series of MSF surveys conducted in five health zones throughout four provinces of the Congolese territory had revealed just how dramatic the situation is. The findings of five new surveys conducted in peacetime show an even darker picture than what was observed four years ago in 2001.

According to MSF, the findings of the surveys are disturbing: the mortality rates indicate an ongoing emergency situation in four of the five zones surveyed.

Even more worrying is that the indicators for three of the five zones point to a catastrophic health crisis, including in regions unaffected by conflict and violence.

"Excess mortality in the DRC is not confined only to areas of ongoing
conflict", says Meinie Nicolai, MSF Director of Operations for the Great
Lakes region. "Abject poverty and hardship are claiming just as many lives."

Most of the victims are suffering and dying from infectious diseases such as malaria, respiratory diseases and diarrhoeal diseases, all of which are avoidable.

According to the MSF report, between 45 per cent and 67 per cent of the people interviewed had no access whatsoever to basic medical care.

The financial burden for the existing health services rests essentially on the shoulders of the patients.

As most Congolese have to survive on the equivalent of 0.30 USD per person per day, the costs for primary health care are well beyond a Congolese family's meagre budget.

As a result, people only seek health care when it is often too late.

Cost is not the only hurdle. MSF says that the health sector as a whole has been left to fend for itself and cannot hope to cover the healthcare needs of the Congolese people. Just as neglected as those they are supposed to be caring for, the country's medical personnel do not have decent working conditions.

On top of that, given the vast distances and lack of infrastructure,
patients struggle just trying to get to a health centre. If and when they get there, they often find that medicines are not available. These factors add to the difficulties the patients face when they need to access health care.

At a time when DRC and the international community are busy working on political transition and economic reconstruction, MSF calls upon the national and international actors not to turn away from the emergency situation in the country.

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