For more than twenty-five years, conflict has threatened the population of one of the world's poorest countries: The Democratic Republic of Congo. The territory of the DRC is under constant pressure from armed groups. People there survive in insecurity, under the threat of violence, and in fear for their lives and those of their loved ones. The country is also plagued by waves of displacement, inadequate access to health care, and the number of people suffering from acute malnutrition. That is why People in Need supports the work of mobile clinics, which, among other things, teach locals how to maintain a proper and nutritious diet. The fight against malnutrition starts with a chef's apron.
People in the South Kivu region have been dealing with the country's war for more than two decades. Despite being used to living in harsh conditions, they fear looting by armed gangs, violence against civilians, and the destruction of vital infrastructure such as health facilities, schools, and much-needed marketplaces. The danger has spilt over into other regions in recent years, namely Minembwe and Biyombo.
"I fled my village after seeing my husband taken away by armed gangs. I gave up everything to save my life and my children's lives because it was no longer safe where we used to live," says Bora Anna, a mother-of-three.
Malnutrition is a persistent problem
As a result of the massive displacement of people from certain areas, thousands of people have limited or disrupted access to health care. During 2019-2021, several incidents have occurred where health facilities such as hospitals and clinics have been looted or destroyed.
In the Hauts Plateaux region, accessing medical treatment or medication is limited due to a lack of medical supplies and trained staff. At the same time, malaria and intestinal problems remain. Moreover, the area is plagued by persistent acute malnutrition— in both children and adults. High-altitude natural conditions and constant fighting do not allow people to consume a varied or nutritious diet. Therefore, people living here are caught in a vicious circle of poorly balanced food and limited resources. The primary aid for acutely malnourished children is Plumpy'Nut, a high-calorie mixed nut paste that can quickly deliver needed nutrients and improve a child's condition.
According to a UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report published in 2021, nearly 4.4 million people suffer from acute malnutrition, including 3.4 million children under five. The same source also reveals a sad first for the DRC - it currently ranks first globally in terms of the number of people suffering from acute food insecurity, with 21.8 million of its population at risk.
"I walked with my three children for seven days to get to Katala. We only walked at night to consume less food and water. When we arrived, we were exhausted and dehydrated. I needed help for my sick son, so I was dependent on free care at the health centre," Bora Anna continues.
Cooking courses and direct help thanks to the mobile clinic
People in Need is organising a project in cooperation with Médecins du Monde (MdM) from Belgium. With financial support from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), this cooperative project seeks to improve the health care of local people. In the regions of Lemera and Ruzizi, around 25,000 people have found new homes in the last year. These people are aided by a consortium of organisations trying to help and improve their health care options. Mobile clinics provided by MdM regularly arrive in the areas affected by harms and are often the only way for local patients to access specialised care.
"As part of a project being implemented by People in Need and MdM, we have set up a system of mobile clinics. Thanks to them, we can monitor the needs of people in the villages and adapt to their requirements to receive adequate help. This centre is one of those working with the mobile clinics," says Mbirizi Kavindazi, health officer at the Katala centre.
Raising awareness of the causal factors of malnutrition is an essential part of the work of People in Need and Doctors of the World Belgium in the DRC. This is why we also support local health workers in organising cooking classes for women. Mothers with children have the opportunity to “look under the hood” of preparing a balanced meal, and they can learn how to prepare a nutrient-rich diet not only for their children but also for themselves. They learn the tried and tested techniques of cooking food from local sources. These workshops aim to gradually reduce malnutrition in local families and eventually at the national level.
Other activities that the project implements in the community include the prevention of Covid-19; posters with pictures are displayed in public places to teach people how to prevent transmission of the virus. This is essential as the pandemic is still ongoing in the country, although the number of positive cases has decreased significantly. Nevertheless, health institutions continue to take precautions and inform the population about vaccination.
Author: Zawadi Izabayo, Karolína Šugarová