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Democratic Republic of the Congo

After nearly four decades of war and conflict, people living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) face numerous barriers to accessing quality reproductive health services. Due to its vast size and poorly developed road and communication systems, family planning, maternal health, and other basic health services are extremely limited or altogether unavailable. Family planning helps prevent maternal morbidity and mortality, as well as assisting women and men to have the number of children they desire. Poor maternal health care has resulted in high maternal mortality, as well as the occurrence of obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal that results in chronic leakage of urine or feces, often caused by obstructed labor. Traumatic fistula—the same condition, but inflicted by sexual violence—is also common, due to the prevalence of gender-based violence in the DRC.

With women at the center of our mission in the DRC, EngenderHealth has a two-pronged approach to addressing the reproductive needs of poor and marginalized communities there. Since 2008, EngenderHealth has worked to improve the quality of and access to fistula care services in the DRC. From 2008 to 2013, we partnered with seven health centers and hospitals to train 44 doctors and 242 nurses in fistula repair surgery and 802 doctors and nurses in fistula counseling and follow-up care. Our work also included the improvement of emergency obstetric care and outreach to rural clinics, to ensure that women in need of medical attention were referred to the hospitals for repair.

Today, EngenderHealth continues to address fistula in the DRC with the Fistula Care Plus project. As our work expands, we are better able to address the backlog of women living with obstetric or traumatic fistula. We are also increasing the integration of family planning services with fistula and maternal health services as a key component of fistula prevention. 

On the family planning front, EngenderHealth’s Expand Family Planning Project (ExpandFP) supports the Ministry of Health in building capacity, improving quality, and expanding access to family planning services in communities in five health zones of Kinshasa (with more than 10 million inhabitants). In a country with a high fertility rate (6.6 lifetime births per woman) and high unmet need for family planning (30% of married women of reproductive age in Kinshasa alone), ExpandFP aims to address the gap in access to contraception. In the first two years of the project, nearly 33,000 women chose a contraceptive method, the majority choosing hormonal implants. The project previously conducted a research study on client perceptions of quality and choice, and is currently implementing a study to explore and provide evidence for establishing an internal hospital-based FP referral system and to analyze how cost affects clients’ use of FP services.

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