Poverty & Healthcare
Greatest health threats
Fewer than a quarter of people have proper sanitation facilities and fewer than half access to clean water.
This means water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, bilharzia/schistosomiasis (see Health, Diseases) and cholera are common.
Outbreaks of cholera occur every year and around 3% of those who contract the disease die because of lack of treatment.
However, the greatest threat to health is malaria. In 2009, there were over 6.7 million cases of malaria. Two out of every five deaths among young children are caused by malaria (WHO).
No official data exists, but around half a million people are estimated to be infected with HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
Children fending for themselves
Around half of infant deaths in the DR Congo are linked to malnutrition. Deaths are often caused by a lack of vitamin A, zinc or iron in a child’s diet.
Around 55% of people live below the poverty line, living on less than a dollar each day. Areas with the greatest number of poor are particularly in the east of the country, where conflict continues. Fighting and the lack of roads make it difficult for aid and help to be provided to certain regions.
Malnutrition is widespread. Without a proper diet, nearly two-thirds of children lack Vitamin A (which allows the immune system to develop) and half suffer from a deficiency of other essential nutrients such as iron, Vitamin E and zinc.
With families struggling to survive and the high number of orphans created by war and disease (an estimated 4 million), there are many street children in the DR Congo. The capital, Kinshasa, contains around 20-25,000 children who sleep rough and survive by begging.
The problem of street children has been worsened in recent years by the belief in witchcraft, called ‘kindoki’. Youngsters can be accused of being ‘witch children’ by local leaders, priests or relatives and if an exorcism cannot be afforded, the child is frequently abandoned.
Struggling healthcare network
Not enough doctors
There is only 1 doctor and 5 nurses/midwives for every 10,000 people in the DR Congo, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2000-2010.
Most hospitals and health centres across the DR Congo are poorly staffed and equipped. This is because the healthcare system collapsed during the years of conflict.
Health professionals have not received a wage from the government for many years. This means they have either gone private, emigrated or become an employee of one of the foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing healthcare support.
The WHO and medical NGOs are doing their best to deal with a number of public health challenges. For example, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been running immunization programmes against measles and polio.
In 2011, there were 89 polio infections and 129,000 reported cases of measles, leading to over 1,500 deaths (UNICEF).