Rebel groups recently declared a ceasefire in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) to allow for a visit of the UN’s head, Ban Ki-moon. During a visit to Goma, the Secretary-General declared that all concerned in the DR Congo had “the best chance in many years to bring peace, stability and development to this country and this region.” His statement came in a week when the World Bank pledged 1 billion dollars for projects and public services in the conflict-ridden Great Lakes region. The UN will also be sending in a new ‘Intervention Brigade’ to bolster the existing peace-keeping mission. This brigade will have a “clear and robust mandate to enforce peace when it is necessary”.
Some of the new financing from the World Bank will go towards improving health services. Such a commitment is urgently needed as the weak health system in the DR Congo continues to struggle, particularly in treating the most common illnesses.
A recent IRIN article focuses on malaria, which remains the leading killer of under-fives in the country, as well as being responsible for a significant proportion of deaths among older children and adults. Recent mortality surveys show that cases of malaria are causing around two-fifths of all deaths among children under five and are responsible for around half of all hospital consultations and admissions for this age group. The UN’s child agency, UNICEF, says that on average under-fives suffer from 6-10 episodes of malaria each year.
Deficiencies in the healthcare system remain, contributing to the high incidence of malaria and other childhood diseases such as measles. A spokesperson for the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which operates health clinics in the DR Congo, explains that mosquito nets are frequently unavailable in areas where children are vulnerable and there are also shortages of rapid diagnostic kits. And health centres often lack the necessary drugs and equipment for carrying out blood transfusions, a life-saving treatment for children suffering anaemia due to malaria.
The MSF spokesperson believes the fight against malaria remains “the top priority of the country” and financial resources will be needed, because MSF cannot address the current crisis alone. As the spokesperson succinctly explains, too many health centres in the DR Congo are unable to cope with outbreaks of malaria and as a result, “children are dying”.