With challenges to accessing maternal care, conflict, and a high fertility rate, the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most difficult places in the world to be a mother. The most recent data from the World Bank estimates a maternal mortality rate of 730 deaths per 100,000 live births – the 6th highest in the world. In ECI’s opinion poll of the people of DRC, more than a quarter of respondents had experienced the death of a child in their immediate family. The first few months of a child’s life are a critical period; infants develop motor skills, better hearing and vision, and are highly vulnerable to disease during this time. Despite this, the polling also found that 19% of respondents had not sought medical treatment for their newborn child, with a lack of financial resources cited as the most common barrier.
On Idjwi Island in the middle of Lake Kivu, mothers experience even more challenges than in the rest of the country. Mothers on the island are on average 10% younger and have a 20% higher fertility rate than rural women elsewhere in DRC. Women on the island have difficulty reaching well-equipped treatment centers on the mainland in the event of an emergency, increasing the risks of complications during birth.
Since 2012, ECI has supported HEAL Africa in creating a safe motherhood program on Idjwi Island. HEAL Africa staff train traditional birth attendants in modern midwifery in addition to providing training for health professionals on the island, linking the informal and formal health systems already in place. The project has already recorded important successes – since its inception, the assisted birth rate for the island has risen from 59% to 81% as more and more women seek out health care. The project also raises awareness about high-risk pregnancies, family planning, and the important of pre- and post-natal visits through radio broadcasts and through community meetings on the islands.
HEAL Africa is continuing to expand the project through a new grant from ECI, expecting to add maternity wards to an additional two rural health centers, train 66 further birth attendants and support staff, and develop 18 additional mutual health insurance groups of 25 couples each to cover healthcare costs. HEAL Africa is very active in supporting eastern DRC’s health sector – learn more about the range of their activities on their website: http://www.healafrica.org/