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Action Against Hunger in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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My recent article on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) highlighted the challenges for building peace in the conflict-torn and impoverished country. One of the aid agencies on the ground in the DRC is Action Against Hunger.

Susannah Masur, a communications officer for Action Against Hunger, recently took time to discuss her agency’s role in fighting hunger in the DRC.

 

Where does Action Against Hunger work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Are these areas where there is ongoing conflict?

In D.R. Congo since 1996, Action Against Hunger carries out nutrition, food security and livelihoods, and water, sanitation, and hygiene programs in the provinces of Kasaï Occidental, Kasaï Oriental, Equateur, Katanga, North and South Kivu, Kinshasa, Province Orientale, and Bandundu. In 2009, our programs benefited over 500,000 people.

 


Action Against Hunger provides training in agricultural techniques with the aim of ensuring long-term food security. Photo courtesy: ACF-D.R. Congo.

 

There is a disease that is destroying the banana crop in parts of the DRC. Can this be stopped?

Action Against Hunger set up an innovative pilot program to combat a disease called “banana wilt” in North and South Kivu, provinces affected by years of violent conflict. Action Against Hunger is helping communities construct nurseries and later transplant the healthy banana shoots to disease-free communal fields. In coordination with local authorities and organizations, we are teaching farmers how to root out the disease in their own fields and training community-based committees to monitor the disease and help control its spread. In addition, we are providing farmers who have cleared their fields of diseased banana plants with seeds to grow alternative crops.

This is a disease that has ravaged banana plants across East and Central Africa. Bananas are a staple crop for the region and a vital part of its economy, so wilt has dealt a major blow to people’s livelihoods. Some 30 million people are at risk in the region, according to the New York Times. Partnerships with local authorities and organizations are essential to helping control the spread of this disease.

 


An ACF staff member assesses a corn field that serves as a farmer’s alternative livelihood to bananas.

 

What are the malnutrition rates among children in the DRC?

Acute malnutrition is a major public health issue in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2009, the nutrition department of the Ministry of Health (the PRONANUT), supported by WFP, UNICEF, and with the assistance of Action Against Hunger, conducted 79 territorial nutrition surveys in the four provinces identified as most vulnerable to acute malnutrition (Katanga, Kasaï Occidental, Kasaï Oriental and Equateur) following a number of nutrition crises that have occurred over the last two years. These crises are a result of many factors, including the collapse of the regional mining industry. More than 500,000 people are affected by acute malnutrition in these four provinces alone.

Out of 79 territories, 30 of them (37%) are in a situation of “nutritional alert,” and 45 of them (57%) are facing a “nutrition crisis.” (According to the national nutrition protocol of DRC, the threshold for a nutrition alert is a rate of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) > 5%, and the threshold for a nutrition crisis is a rate of GAM >10%). Other provinces will be surveyed in 2010 following the same methodology and with the same partners, in order to complete the mapping of acute malnutrition throughout the territory of the DRC.

 


Action Against Hunger helps families affected by violence in eastern Congo regain their livelihoods.

 

How is Action Against Hunger helping to treat child malnutrition?

Over the years, we have honed a strategy that combines direct intervention on behalf of affected children with technical and logistical support for local actors. This last year alone, we treated 30,000 cases of severe acute malnutrition across the country by employing a community-based model that is revolutionizing care for the life-threatening condition.

At the community level, Action Against Hunger is training volunteer village health teams to diagnose malnutrition and refer affected children for outpatient treatment, or if they have severe medical or nutritional complications, to therapeutic Stabilization Centers for around-the-clock care. By tapping into a national program of Community Health Workers already in place, we have trained thousands of volunteers to ensure families of acutely malnourished children know where they can seek help.

In outpatient centers managed by the Congolese Ministry of Health and integrated into the local health system, nurses trained and equipped by Action Against Hunger are treating and monitoring acutely malnourished children during their weekly visits.

When the crisis subsides and we can eventually depart, the local health system we have strengthened will continue to support improvements in communities’ nutritional health.

Now, because of a national nutrition protocol and specially-formulated Ready-to-Use Foods (RUFs) like Plumpy’nut, malnourished children can visit the outpatient centers once a week to get a medical check-up, be weighed and measured, and receive therapeutic RUFs to consume at home. In the past, all treatment for acute malnutrition required prolonged hospitalization.

Children whose condition has deteriorated to such an extent that they require hospitalization receive intensive care in therapeutic Stabilization Centers, which are set up in hospitals. After these children have recovered, they are admitted to the outpatient nutrition program for continued treatment until the target weight is reached. The vast majority of them return to full health within four to six weeks.

In both outpatient and inpatient centers, staff members discuss the children’s progress with their parents and teach them basic nutrition and hygiene practices to improve their health. Action Against Hunger provides technical and organizational training for the centers’ staff, equipment and therapeutic nutrition products, as well as financial support for badly underfunded hospitals and health centers to purchase medicine and other essentials. Last year, some 10,500 medical staff and community health workers received comprehensive training on care for severely malnourished children through the program.

How can someone help Action Against Hunger’s program in the DRC?

People can donate to Action Against Hunger’s life-saving programs here.

For updates on our programs in D.R. Congo, they can become fans of us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (@acfusa). They can spread the word among their friends and family.

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.