Under-funding and lack of political will have left Congo’s healthcare system in a “disastrous” state, according to a human rights group, which has called on the government to match its public declarations with action.
“Today we appeal for things to change in the healthcare sector because there is a wide gulf between the authorities’ speeches and reality,” Cephas Germain Ewangui, head of the Association Panafricaine Thomas Sankara (APTS), said on 10 December, as he released the results of his NGO’s study of the country’s healthcare facilities.
“We are witnessing a disaster,” he said.
According to the report, many medical facilities lack the means to meet the basic needs of patients. The Blanche Gomes maternity hospital in the capital, Brazzaville, for example, had in mid-December yet to receive 300 million FCFA (US$625,000) expected for its 2007 budget.
“The lifts don’t work, windows are broken, there is no drinking water, no toilets, let alone showers,” the report stated, adding that conditions there and at other hospitals were barely fit for patients.
In the capital’s University Hospital, the neurology, cardiology and ophthalmology departments lacked the basic equipment to carry out essential tests, the report stated.
“Yet there was a time,” said Ewangui, “when cancer patients from across central Africa were taken to Brazzaville for treatment. Nowadays, radiotherapy is no longer operational here and such patients travel to Cameroon or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Worse still, the University Hospital has no generator to provide electricity for operations during power cuts. When the power fails, hurricane lamps are used,” the report stated.
In June 2007, a five-year, 260 billion FCFA ($540 million) National Healthcare Development Plan was adopted to improve the management and quality of the healthcare system, including expanding the reach of primary healthcare in rural areas. The plan was also designed to reduce infant and maternal mortality, as well as to step up the fight against tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
According to the health ministry, 781 women die for every 100,000 births. The infant mortality rate stands at 75 per 1,000 while 117 of every 1,000 children are expected to die before the age of five.
Asked for her reaction to the report, Health and Social Affairs Minister Emilienne Raoul declined to comment on its specific details but said: “We know there is a lot to do. For several months the ministry has had a development plan and we are gradually addressing the needs of the people.”
Although the country is one of the largest producers of oil in Africa, the after-effects of a series of coups and civil wars that plagued Congo throughout most of the 1990s continue to be felt and much of the population lives in dire poverty.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions