With the existing fragilities of the DRC’s health system and the emergence of COVID-19, we’ve been under a lot of pressure to respond to new needs and to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on ongoing projects. Most of the COVID-19 response is taking place in Kinshasa, though it is also being implemented in eastern DRC.
As a member of a small team set up to deliver an adolescent health programme, my colleagues and I we were tasked with setting up measures to prevent the spread of the disease and to raise awareness of the organisation’s response. At the same time, we also had to look after our own health, the health of our loved ones and the health of the team members.
There have been times when Ministry of Health workers have been victims of abuse by the population when trying to respond to the pandemic in Kinshasa. Weve been faced with stressful situations, but as time has gone on, we’ve adapted to better respond in the field.
With the arrival of the pandemic in the DRC, the days have become longer than before as we’ve been called upon to respond to new needs and develop new ways of working (respecting preventative measures, social distancing etc). We’re having to constantly adapt while integrating the COVID-19 response into our ongoing projects.
At a time when many parents have been asked to stay home and spend more time with their families, we're being asked to go out and continue to carry out lifesaving work during these uncertain times.
In order to protect our family, my wife, who is also a doctor like me, had to take the necessary time to explain to our children the different measures they must take to keep safe. It wasn’t easy to make the children understand, given their young age, that they should no longer shake hands when greeting visitors. The family dynamic has also changed as we reinforce preventive measures in our home and surroundings, with fewer visits from relatives and friends.
With the onset of the pandemic and my involvement in the implementation of the response activities, I’m expected to acquire new knowledge and develop new skills to better fulfil my role. I’ve therefore been motivated to find training opportunities that help me do this so I can continue to play a valuable role in the team.
Currently the population has:
- Access to resources needed to carry out preventive measures: water, electricity, financial means
- Access to appropriate information on COVID-19
- Community health services adapted to the current context.
On the ground, the response activities are being implemented, but there is still a long way to go to counter rumours and misconceptions about COVID-19.
Furthermore, it is essential to support health structures so that they can meet the IPC/WASH standards. Unfortunately, not all needs are being met. The district of Tshangu, which is our intervention zone, is one of the largest, most populated and rural districts of the province of Kinshasa in the DRC.
Here, people are living in very precarious conditions and they are unable to cope with the further threats that COVID-19 brings. The government has encouraged the population to limit their movements and avoid gatherings of more than 20 people. In Tshangu district these measures are not being respected as people continue to move around in order to meet their basic needs.
With the temporary closure of schools, COVID-19 has had an impact on children's education: in the face of this, we are supporting the Ministry of Primary and Vocational Education to set up distance learning programmes through television and radio. As an actor in the field of Adolescent Reproductive Health, we ensure that these learning programmes also take into account subjects related to this theme.
Fear of attending health facilities may increase children's health vulnerability. While implementing the response interventions, we are also ensuring routine health services continue and are helping to strengthen the health system. Through advocacy and communication activities, we’re promoting health services, including child-friendly services.
In my interactions with the children, the beneficiaries of our projects, I was personally delighted to see how some of them are adapting to the current situation. One girl who has benefited from our projects made the most of her free time by making masks and giving them to family members. This is a good example of how children are getting involved and joining in solidarity to respond to COVID-19.
We must continue to mobilise resources to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on children in the DRC who were already vulnerable even before the outbreak occurred.
The needs of children must be taken into account and we must speak up for children now more than ever before.
Blog written by Dr Pierrot Mbela who is Program Director for an Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health project and also co-leading the COVID-19 response in Kinshasa.
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