Our biggest community-centred conservation project is in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where we are currently overseeing the Delivering Healthy Futures initiative. With 75% of all chimpanzees in Africa found in the Congo Basin, it is critical to the success of our conservation strategy to be on-the-ground in this region, especially in the important wildlife corridor that stretches between two significant nature reserves.

An estimated 70,000 to 110,000 wild chimpanzees can be found here, along with the highly endangered eastern lowland gorilla. Not only is this extraordinary landscape home to chimpanzees, it is also home to large rural populations — people who have traditionally relied on nearby natural resources for food and building materials. Recognizing that the rapid rates of population growth and poverty across these communities was destroying the local biodiversity and wildlife, JGI Canada implemented a community-led conservation effort to benefit people and animals.

Delivering Healthy Futures (DHF) supports maternal and infant health, family planning, an extensive vaccination program, and the construction of maternal health clinics throughout the North Kivu and Maniema provinces in Eastern DRC. By increasing awareness of health services, our project provides life altering support. This is invaluable in a country where rates of maternal and child mortality are shockingly high, with one in seven children not surviving past their fifth birthday, and one of every 144 women dying from childbirth. Since the DHF project began two years ago, 635 health workers, 120 community volunteers, and 558 pregnant women have benefitted from the program. Moreover, we’ve seen a 30% increase in families seeking the support of health professionals at live births.

Faida Musa, a nurse and midwife at the healthcare centre in Bilobilo supported by DHF, described the training she received on reducing risks during pregnancy as crucial and necessary. Faida told us that her training allowed her “to be more confident with cases of complicated childbirth. For example, last night I was able to lead a delivery of an at-risk pregnancy. Without this training, the mother would have been sent to Walikale, 34 kilometres away by motorbike. Thanks to the advice and guidance I received, I could manage this delivery. Human lives are saved by the quality of training and access to medicines made available by this project.”

Through the DHF project, we’ve also supplied local healthcare workers with much-needed bicycles so they can get to remote villages that are not accessible by any other means. Now, even isolated communities in heavily forested areas receive visits from health workers and medical treatment that includes immunizations.

The bicycles have already made a difference. As they cycle from village to village, healthcare workers raise awareness among rural populations on essential health practices, such as the importance of pre- and post-natal care, infant health and nutrition, and malaria prevention. By the end of the program’s second year, nearly 6,000 infants aged 0-11 months had received vaccinations immunizing them against diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, polio, tuberculosis, and tetanus.

Empowered with more information and greater autonomy over their reproductive rights, we anticipate that local population growth will slow, women and children will be healthier, and pressure on forest resources will lessen.

In Canada, healthcare is considered a basic right that many of us take for granted. Sadly this is not the case for too many people living in other parts of the world. For International Development week, you can make a difference in eastern DRC by sending a life-saving gift in support of Delivering Healthy Futures. Your contribution will help increase the reach of maternal health training, supply medical equipment for health centres, and provide bicycles for healthcare workers.

As Dr. Goodall says so often, every one of us can make a difference and it’s up to us what kind of difference we’re going to make.

Since writing this post in 2019, the Delivering Healthy Futures program has been completed. Through this community-centred & partner-led program: 700+ health workers and community volunteers are now trained in reproductive health and family planning management, vaccination, water and sanitation, and early childhood health; 12,000+ girls and boys are now fully immunized through vaccination campaigns conducted in health centres and by mobile clinics in the most remote areas; 20 health centres were equipped with safe motherhood and family planning supplies, equipment, and medicines; and 7 new maternity wards have been constructed.

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