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Why crossing the Congo was so special

Eva Jarawan's picture

Eva Jarawan in the DRC

Even during the busy Spring Meetings here in Washington, my thoughts keep going back to two places I visited this month that lie on either side of the Congo River. I crossed the great river by boat from Brazzaville to Kinshasa, a special journey for many reasons. In Brazzaville, capital of the tiny Republic of Congo, I’d been impressed by the quality of leadership in managing additional financing for one of our projects which addresses HIV/AIDS, and on the other side of the river, I was returning to the Democratic Republic of Congo after a long gap, to find that a health systems rehabilitation project I’d worked on many years ago was in fact thriving and delivering good results.

Today being World Malaria Day, I must register that I saw some extremely useful work going on in Kikimi, a very poor neighborhood near Kinshasa. Our partnership with local NGOs to provide better health services across DRC looks like it’s working well here. Instead of just being shown reports on inputs and equipment, which I’ve found frustrating in the past, this time I met a large number of women who told me about insecticide-treated bed nets they’d received during routine visits to their health center and how useful these nets were to prevent malaria. I saw pharmacy shelves well-stocked with malaria drugs, oral rehydration therapy for diarrhea, and basic antibiotics. The project wasn’t perfect but it was delivering results that I could see with my own eyes.

Eva Jarawan in the DRC

When I met the DRC’s Finance Minister here at the Meetings, he voiced his appreciation for the patient work of one my colleagues, Patrick Mullen, who led this project. It was heartwarming to hear this rare praise, but I couldn’t help thinking of all the work that remains ahead of us. In Kikimi, I had asked kids why they weren’t in school, and someone said that it was because it “wasn’t their turn”. Families can be so poor that siblings often take turns, year by year, to go to school. And when I left Kinshasa, I saw tired people walking on the airport road for miles, just walking and walking, or crammed uncomfortably into tiny buses. I wondered when they would reach home. Especially the women.

There’s so much more to do—not just in health, but in education, transport, and infrastructure—in so many parts of Africa. We’ve got to stay the course and build on successes wherever we find them. When I’m discouraged I think of some of our NGO partners in DRC who travel up river by pirogue, braving pirates, to deliver health services to people in far-flung areas.

What a lesson in not giving up!

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