DRC: Fighting cholera along the River Congo

3 April, 2017
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The 4,700-km long Congo River, which runs the entire length of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is an important economic lifeline for thousands of families. But the picturesque river belies the deadly risk of infectious waterborne diseases such as cholera.

Cholera is an infection caused by contaminated food or water. It can cause severe acute watery diarrhoea with severe dehydration. This can lead to death if left untreated.

Outside of major urban cities like Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, the overwhelming majority of Congolese live in rural, poorly developed areas where access to basic commodities such as clear water is a luxury.

In the DRC, an estimated five million people are at risk of cholera every year, especially in the eastern provinces where the disease is endemic.

Outside of the major urban cities such as Kinshasa and Lubumbashi access to potable water is limited. One out of two households in the DRC does not have access to drinking water, and poor sanitation and hygiene services, are among disease predisposing factors.

Health promotion activities

Thanks to the efforts of Oxfam and other partners funded by the DRC Humanitarian Fund, in 2016 more than 270,000 people living in five cholera-affected provinces had access to clean drinking water.

Allocations from the DRC Humanitarian Fund are enabling many organizations to play a critical role in water provision, emergency healthcare, and hygiene promotion activities in small communities. 

Among those, Oxfam is playing a critical role in distributing water purification tablets and raising public awareness on disease control in boats, churches, hospitals, schools and other public places. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency has since May 2016 set up a mobile cholera treatment clinic on a wooden pirogue (canoe) in Mbandaka, Equateur Province. The ‘clinic’ has a small bed, medicine and other equipment. On average, the ‘clinic’ treats 215 people per month.

Large-scale response

It is estimated that approximately 6.7 million lives across the country will be threatened by epidemics, acute malnutrition and food emergency in 2017.

In 2016, a cholera epidemic was officially declared in the DRC. In response, the World Health Organization and Congolese authorities launched a mass vaccination campaign targeting over 300,000 people living in at-risk areas. Aid agencies also helped more than 270,000 people living in five cholera-affected provinces access clean drinking water. 

The DRC Humanitarian Fund allocated over US$6 million to the 2016 cholera response enabling free high quality medical care for over 5,000 people and prevention activities for a further 900,000 people at risk. Out of 28,334 people affected nationwide in the 2016 outbreak, 771 of them died mainly due to late or a lack of treatment.

The fight against cholera in the DRC requires long-term investments in healthcare. In 2017, some $89.5 million is required to assist 7.3 million people with water, hygiene and sanitation services, according to the DRC’s 2017-2019 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). The 2017-2019 HRP, the first three-year plan for the country, through its new multi-year and multi-sector strategy will facilitate a more effective response to the urgent needs of vulnerable people.

Photos: OCHA/Elodie Sabau/Roel Debruyne