When 25-year-old Valerie Kakaba became ill with malaria, she was frightened. Pregnant with her fourth child, with three little ones under 10 at home, Valerie knew that she needed to seek immediate medical attention. Valerie lives in the small village of Mukwanyama in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Malaria claims thousands of lives in the DRC each year. It is a particularly dangerous illness for expectant women, putting mother and child at great risk if left untreated.

Even apart from malaria, expectant mothers are by definition at high risk in this part of the world. Decades of civil war and economic instability have had a devastating impact on the health outcomes for the most vulnerable populations in the DRC. Those living in the rural areas on the eastern side of the country are extremely susceptible to violence and conflict such that even basic needs are not always met. According to recent data, one in seven children die before reaching the age of five and the maternal mortality ratio is 730 deaths per 100,000 live births.  Less than half the population has access to a safe source of clean drinking water and less than a third has access to adequate sanitation facilities. Without the expertise of trained health workers, bringing a child into the world can be life threatening for both mothers and babies. High rates of infant and maternal mortality cause entire communities to suffer.

Even apart from malaria, expectant mothers are by definition at high risk in this part of the world. Decades of civil war and economic instability have had a devastating impact on the health outcomes for the most vulnerable populations in the DRC. Those living in the rural areas on the eastern side of the country are extremely susceptible to violence and conflict such that even basic needs are not always met. According to recent data, one in seven children die before reaching the age of five and the maternal mortality ratio is 730 deaths per 100,000 live births.  Less than half the population has access to a safe source of clean drinking water and less than a third has access to adequate sanitation facilities. Without the expertise of trained health workers, bringing a child into the world can be life threatening for both mothers and babies. High rates of infant and maternal mortality cause entire communities to suffer.

Acting to improve the health and well-being of 20 key communities dotted along an important wildlife corridor, JGI Canada’s Delivering Healthy Futures (DHF) project is making medical services for mothers and babies much more accessible. This is accomplished by constructing clinics, undertaking large-scale outreach about the importance of family planning, and training local health officials to offer proper care during pregnancy and delivery.

For Valerie, access to prenatal care at the Mukwanyama Health Clinic – where JGI Canada was instrumental in training healthcare workers and providing medical supplies and equipment – may have saved her life and that of her unborn child. She had attended the clinic’s prenatal classes and the staff had been monitoring her pregnancy. They treated her immediately. Care during pregnancy is essential to detecting and preventing disease, infection, iron deficiencies and other potential health risks.

Before our DHF project began, a mere 15% of pregnant women received much-needed prenatal care. Now in year three of the DHF initiative, that number has more than tripled to 61%. Valerie is today the proud mother of four thriving children.

Since writing this post in 2018, 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.

Photo credit: Bella Lam

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