East Congo Health Ministries
By Philippe Okonda and Richard Letshu
In the DRC, health-care services are generally covered by direct payment from patients. There is no mutual health fund nor is there any form of health insurance. This greatly limits access to health care for a majority of the people because of its high cost, given that 80 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day. The government’s meager contribution to the public health system comes primarily in the form
of salary and bonus payments to physicians and amounts to less than 5 percent of the total needed to cover the country’s many health needs. As a result, people without other sources of help must resort to traditional medicine—their only other option.
The international community provides the major share of financial support for the health system—mainly through nongovernmental organizations and United Nations agency channels. However, this coverage is generally limited to prevention programs, a strengthening of the health system, and the provision of some health-care training.
The United Methodist Church is an important contributor to the health-care system in the East Congo area. It has 18 health facilities and 10 smaller clinics that provide health care to an estimated population of 400,000. Thanks to the support of partners such as UMCOR, the health ministry of the UMC keeps growing each year. The East Congo malaria-control program is especially well developed as part of the Imagine No Malaria program.
East Congo Health Program
The East Congo Health Program organizes and manages its United Methodist medical facilities in accordance with DRC health regulations. Its mission is to facilitate better access to health care for more people in need, regardless of their race, sex, religion, tribal or ethnic affiliation, or other factor. United Methodist health workers also provide public information, necessary education, and effective support to promote health in the general population.
In 2012, we inherited a health system in the East Congo Episcopal Area composed of the following institutions. In the East Congo Annual Conference, there was one General Hospital of Reference (GHR) in Maniema Province, known as Tunda Hospital, a Technical Medical Institute (TMI) for teaching medical students in the town of Tunda, and six health centers: Likeri, Kibombo, Minembe, Lokole, Lubao, and the Ongelo Health Post. In Kivu Annual Conference, there was one clinic, the Uvira Clinic. And in the Oriental and Equateur Conference, there was the Mangobo Health Center. These various institutions were plagued with problems, including poor infrastructure, inadequate and outdated equipment, and a lack of medicines. Since 2012, when the Episcopal Area was founded, East Congo has established a Board of Health Development and has adopted a strategic plan for strengthening existing health services and establishing new ones. Health Board members have been recruited and trained, and an office for health coordination has been opened in Kindu.
Major areas of the strategic plan are intended to strengthen the coordination of health ministries in East Congo as part of the Congo Central Conference of The United Methodist Church. The plan seeks to support the development of health facilities as well as improve the quality of care for patients. Within our health network, health workers also conduct high-impact public health interventions against endemic diseases, such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.
Of particular concern is addressing the health issues of women who are victims of rape and sexual violence, along with the health needs of people who have been displaced by the ongoing conflict in the northern and southern parts of the Kivu provinces. Two assistance programs were conducted in 2013 for internally displaced people in the two Kivu provinces.
Health Center Renovations
Over the last two years, renovations have already taken place in a number of health facilities. Not only has Lokole Health Center in Kindu been renovated but a new maternity wing has been built on the property. The Mangobo Health Center has also undergone renovation, and work has been started on the Likeri Health Center and on a health center in Bukavu.
Four of the health centers—Lokole, Uvira, Mangobo, and Kibombo—are being developed into hospital centers with additional services and medical personnel. This will enable the health workers to coordinate a more comprehensive package of complementary health care. The UMC also plans to revitalize 10 health centers to meet the government’s standards for a health facility capable of providing a certain minimum package of care.
Today, in addition to Tunda Hospital, Tunda Technical Medical Institute, and three of the completed hospital centers, the UMC’s East Congo health system has 23 health centers, for a total of 28 health facilities.
Plans for the Future
By 2016, the health system of the East Congo Episcopal Area will be strong enough to contribute more fully to the reduction of the currently excessive mortality and morbidity rates in eastern DRC communities, in accordance with the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church. By then, a fourth health center will be developed into a more comprehensive hospital center. And we will continue to strengthen the 23 current health centers to meet the minimum requirements for basic primary health services. We also hope to improve the facilities and services of Tunda Hospital.
In the next two years, the East Congo Health Program plans to assist with a large distribution of bed nets in South Kivu and to implement an informational program about HIV/AIDS in some of the schools.
Challenges in the Region
As in all areas of work in Eastern Congo, poor communication networks and a lack of affordable transportation between provinces limit the amount of regular contact the health coordinator can have with the various health facilities of the church. Since conferences have limited financial resources, accomplishing our goals has created a dependence on UMCOR at this early stage of our development. The health board hopes to develop the ability to diversify East Congo’s technical and financial partners in the future.
Given the extensive poverty in the DRC, few of the patients served by the UMC health centers have sufficient income to pay for medical services. Thus most of our medical services are free of charge at this time.
Dr. Philippe Okonda is the Coordinator of Health Services for the East Congo Episcopal Area. Dr. Richard Letshu works with the World Health Organization in the DRC and served as the Coordinator of Health Services from 2012 to 2014. This article was first published in the New World Outlook magazine November-December 2014 issue. Used by permission.
SUPPORT FOR HEALTH WORK IN EAST CONGO
There are several opportunities to support health ministries in the East Congo area through the Advance. Advance #3020682, Kisangani Health Center and Maternity Center Reconstruction, will help to revitalize a UMC health center in the Oriental Province.
Advance #15135A, Kindu and Tunda Health Center Reconstruction, will assist UMC health facilities in the Maniema Province of the DRC.
Patients in the malaria ward of the Lokole Health Center.
A technician with one lone microscope and the light of the sun diagnoses malaria cases at the Lokole Health Center.
Dr. Philippe Okonda and Dr. Richard Letshu, DRC.
Photos: Christie R. House
Pictured are the renovated Mangobo Health Center, and the building before reconstruction started. Oriental and Equateur Conference, DRC.
Photos: Courtesy East Congo UMC
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