“We know that handwashing is important.” Health care and COVID-19 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

“We know that handwashing is important.” Health care and COVID-19 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Aug 5, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic reached the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in March 2020, and by the end of July, there were nearly 9,000 confirmed cases in the country. Non-governmental organisations, including People in Need (PIN), adapted existing programmes to help control the virus’ spread. 

PIN, in collaboration with Doctors of the World Belgium, focused on improving access to and the quality of primary healthcare services, as well as on providing nutrition treatment to the most vulnerable people in the Lemera Health Zone. 

In addition, the programme, which is funded by the European Union’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), immediately began conducting awareness-raising activities, delivering personal protective equipment such as face masks to health workers, installing handwashing stations, and helping to prepare health centres for treating people suspected of having COVID-19.

Mariam lives close to the village of Ndegu, home to one of the project’s three health centres, where local health workers share information about COVID-19. Thanks to these activities, as well as information shared on the local radio, Mariam knows how to protect herself and her family. "I wash my hands,” she says. “We know that hand washing is important when we return from outside, whether it is from the market or from anywhere else."

Recently, Mariam was not feeling well and visited the health centre in Ndegu village. "I had been feeling tired for a few days; I had a fever and headaches," she says. A doctor at the health centre examined her, recorded her symptoms, and based on those results, determined that she did not have COVID-19 and prescribed her appropriate treatment. 

Zuzana Brezinova, head of PIN’s programmes in the DRC, says: "We increased the capacity of three health centres to help doctors recognize the symptoms of COVID-19, and in severe or deteriorating cases, to refer patients to Lemera General Referral Hospital or other appropriate health facilities."

Beyond the pandemic

Of course, the coronavirus is not the only issue medical staff treat. The health centres also focus on helping people with severe acute malnutrition. Since the inception of the programme in June 2019, nearly 35,000 patients have received consultations. A full 99 percent of patients admitted for severe acute malnutrition through the programme have recovered.


Author: Zawadi Izabayo, Petr Stefan, People in Need