In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 5% of children grow up with a disability. One major cause of this tragic fact: the lack of good health care for pregnant women and newborns. Public health structures in the DRC are woefully underfunded and overcrowded, lacking in trained staff, proper equipment, and even in basic hygiene. Quality care is available in private hospitals and clinics but the majority of Congolese cannot afford care.
In addition to the lack of affordable, good quality healthcare, most poor Congolese women are uneducated about the importance of receiving pre- and postnatal care: Disability can be prevented through proper prenatal care and can be detected early and managed when a newborn is monitored by a healthcare professional.
To address this challenge, Handicap International manages a mother and child health program in the neighborhood of Bumbu Selembao in the capitol of Kinshasa to prevent and diagnose disability in newborns. Community volunteers travel throughout the area to distribute information about disability prevention and organize weekly awareness sessions with mothers. Now, 130 to 150 new and expecting mothers visit the local Kitokimosi Health Center each month for prenatal care.
Handicap International has trained 40 people working at the Kitokimosi Health Center to counsel pregnant mothers about health practices that can help prevent disability. For example, staff advise mothers that during childbirth, the baby’s arms should not be pulled, as this practice can lead to paralysis.
Health center staff are also trained on how to spot early signs of disability in newborns and older babies. When disability is identified early in life and follow up care is prescribed, a child is much more likely to have a better outcome as he or she gets older.
In partnership with the Clinical University of Kinshasa and the Institute of Higher Medical Techniques, Handicap International ensures that children diagnosed with cerebral palsy receive physical therapy to lessen the impact of the condition. Community rehabilitation teams work with 30 to 40 children with cerebral palsy each day. Handicap International’s “Always Free” mobile clinic enables children to continue their rehabilitation at home.