ISSI: Transforming healthcare in DRC

“All African women, especially Congolese, are heroes. They are strong, courageous women.”- DR Ese Diejomaoh

The Democratic Republic of Congo is currently experiencing, according to The Guardian, the ‘most complex healthcare crisis in history’. DRC’s national public healthcare system is extremely basic. At every level, the healthcare system in DRC suffers from major shortages: hospital access, medical supplies and equipment and a lack of qualified doctors and nurses.

With a population of over 80 million, for every 10,000 people, there is just 1 doctor and 5 nurses and midwives. As a result, a large proportion of the population, especially women and children are dying at alarming rates from easily curable infections and diseases such as diarrhoea. The severe underdevelopment of the healthcare system and infrastructure is exacerbated by the ongoing Ebola crisis, which puts the already strained system under unprecedented pressure.

In a nation where over 70% of the population live in extreme poverty, a lack of access and money means that people often wait too long to see a doctor. Women are even more vulnerable as the nation’s child-bearing primary caregivers. The work of ISSI (Institut Supérieur en Sciences Infirmières) is the forefront of combating the health emergency DR Congo is currently experiencing.

ISSI provides high-quality training already recognised across the country. In fact, they are so appreciated by hospitals that they are paid over 200% more (on average, nurses earn a salary of $80 a month, whilst ISSI graduates earn an average of $300 when they come out of nursing school) than a nurse who is not ISSI-trained. It produces graduates who are diligent nurses and are changing the landscape of healthcare in DR using a dual teaching style that alternates between practical and clinical practice whilst emphasising patient care and empathy.

More recently, ISSI has begun offering a Master’s programme in health care administration (MAPS), the first programme training Congolese nurses and midwives to take leadership roles in hospitals or in training the next generation of midwives and nurses. This work is crucial when just 12% of Congolese nursing teachers have the qualifications needed to teach.

The healthcare system [currently] means that everything is dependent on the woman… she is the one who is expected to take time off work to look after their child, she is the one who is earning less.

We had the privilege to hear a panel discussion of female health experts at Travers Smith LLP. This included Dr Ese Diejomaoh (who runs a training school in DRC), Dr Brenda Oseio M.A.O (works as a GP in London, originally from Kenya), Dr Carine Miteyo (originally from DRC with experience working at Monkole, in Kinshasa, ISSI’s connecting hospital) and Olivia Darby (WONDER’s own Director of Policy and Campaigns), led by WONDER trustee Raphaella Gabrasadig. The panel discussed the necessity of well-trained nurses in Africa, the importance of educating women as a means of achieving gender equality, balancing scientific education with traditional beliefs and the experience of women in DRC alongside the importance of mentoring at ISSI.

Mentoring is important because we need someone who believes in us, believes in our story and in our capacity.

The panel also took questions from the audience. In particular, the issue of data and statistic collection in DRC was highlighted. For example, Dr Ese stated that there is both an absence of development and that the data is not reliable. This is the result of several factors such as the Ebola crisis, infrastructure issues resulting in a lack of census data as well as the legacy of the two civil wars.

Dr Ese stated that whilst the official maternal mortality rate for DRC is 619/100,000, this is not the case on the ground. Having witnessed many cases, Dr Ese stated that 9/10 times, there are complications with the pregnancy and birth, the mother will die. Consequently, it is difficult to emphasise the severity of the issue to the rest of the world without access to accurate and up-to-date data.

ISSI in the heart of Africa and real change is being made.

In order to tackle the maternal health issue outside the capital, Kinshasa, ISSI has established three outreach clinics in poor, rural districts where the work of ISSI is most needed and women are most vulnerable. Recently, ISSI launched the ‘Forfait Mama’ (Mama Package) programme. In order to participate, a woman pays $50. With this, everything during-the-course of the pregnancy, during birth and post-natal care is completely covered.

Over 850 pregnant women have signed up. As the panel discussion showed the work of ISSI is vital to DRC: without the support and without funding, the healthcare crisis will continue to put undue stress on a system of healthcare that is already poor. The lack of doctors in DRC (around 100) means that nurses are all the more important, hospitals and clinics cannot function without their vital contribution and training them to a high standard has the potential to save countless lives.

ISSI is an example of how investing in women’s education has a multiplying effect.

How you can help:

Your help can provide the much-needed financial support ISSI needs to expand and create long-term and sustainable change to healthcare in DRC. As little as £3 can cover one student’s fees for a week. £100 can go towards buying vital new equipment for the school, helping them produce nurses who can tackle the national health crisis. £760 can cover the cost of one of three years’ training for a nurse at ISSI.

If you are interested in learning more about the work of ISSI and healthcare in DRC, read our report.

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