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Democratic republic of congo education and health: the state puts its hand in its pocket.

With less than 1,000 days to go before the deadline expires for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and aware of how much still needs to be achieved, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has decided to give a new impetus to its social plan. In addition to building new schools and hospitals, a reform of the entire education and healthcare systems is in the pipeline.

THE SAVINGS ACHIEVED THROUGH the new budgetary policy have freed up $3oom, which the DRC government has immediately reinvested in programmes aimed at addressing the country's shortcomings in economic and social development. The clear statement of intent which the administration is sending is that there can be no development without education. Nothing ground breaking, you may think, but where everything is still to be built, developed and enhanced, training the elite of tomorrow is a critical challenge the government is facing today. It is one of Africa's most populous countries with a population of 66m people today, and on current trends and projections it will exceed 150m by 2050.

"We know that our educational system is struggling," admits Professor Kita, in charge of education in the Prime Minister's Cabinet. "Falling educational levels, a result of increasing demand and increasingly less-qualified teaching staff. The overall picture is fairly gloomy." Considering the size of the task, the government has decided to tackle the problem at source, via primary education. "We asked ourselves one simple question: are all Congolese children able to go to school? That is the reason why we have made primary education free for all."

1,000 SCHOOLS BY DECEMBER 2014

The minister acknowledges that there is a lack of educational infrastructure. This is the objective of the Programme de Reconstruction et de Rehabilitation des Infrastructures Scolaires (Programme for the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation of Educational Infrastructure, (PRISS)).

The state made a commitment to fund this programme out of its own pocket. "By imposing a certain economic austerity, we have managed to make some savings in other areas which have freed up resources to fund this programme with mobil Congolese francs (approximately $110m)."

PRISS is currently being rolled out and provision has been made for the construction of Loco schools, of which half will be completed by April 2014. "We are literally building things brick by brick," the professor explains. "In real terms, each school represents a mini-project in itself: you build the building, bring together a team, implement a teacher training programme, provide the necessary teaching material, etc. This is a reform of all the pedagogical and supervisory aspects, as well as the infrastructure. Our country has not been witness to such an ambitious programme in over 60 years."

It is not only the work carried out to address the lack of school infrastructure, it is the entire education service which is being reformed and rebuilt, using new bases which correspond more closely to the current situation and requirements in the country.

VOCATIONAL TRAINING

"For decades, primary teaching was only developed along one sole trajectory: that the only point was to prepare children for secondary education and university. And demand became so great that we are now on the cusp of a hugely excessive student population, which will have an impact on university teaching quality. This was the reason for the current reform: to reconsider the goals of education, especially at secondary level. It can no longer be developed as a mere antechamber to university, but must allow the pupils to prepare for the world of work. Look around you; there are construction projects everywhere and yet you can no longer find a bricklayer in Kinshasa. This is because people think that you are useless unless you go to university. And this is the culture that we must change." Discussions are under way which should result in a new programme, to be presented by the Minister for Education, Maker Mwangu Famba, at the start of the new school year.

A DELAY IN ACHIEVING THE MDGs

In the meantime, Dr Victor Makwenge Kaput, Minister of Public Health, is working on another field: namely, health, which is going through a number of difficulties. With a life expectancy of 49 years, a human development index of 0.286 in 2011 and 806 of the population living on less than si per day, the DRC is the lowest-ranked underdeveloped country of all (187th out of 187 according to the nil UNDP classification). This is in part due to the conflict in the east of the country, which, with the ongoing peace negotiations, will undoubtedly improve the metrics but highlights the challenges faced by the current administration.

The government acknowledges that there can be no development without an efficient healthcare system, accessible to all (especially the most disadvantaged), sufficient infrastructure and equipment, qualified staff, etc. These are all challenges faced by the Ministry of Health.

"Our country has been lagging behind somewhat in terms of achieving the MDGs. This is especially the case for two indices, infant mortality, with 158 deaths per L000 births, and maternal mortality, with 449 deaths per L000 births. We have one of the highest mortality rates in Africa and indeed anywhere in the world," explains the Minister, "The second problem concerns healthcare infrastructure."

However, since 2006, within the framework of President Kabila's five-sector programme, the state has reinvested in the national healthcare system: 500 healthcare centres have been refurbished and 36 new hospitals built. Now, the new government, headed by Prime Minister Matata Ponyo, who assumed this role in May 2012, has established a programme for equipping healthcare structures. There are three strands to this programme: renovation, equipment and medical supplies.

"You should not forget that 74% of the Congolese people do not have access to medicine when they receive a prescription in a hospital." With a budget of 80bn Congolese francs ($90m), also funded by the government itself, the programme, set to run during 2013 and 2014, should allow the government to equip 200 hospitals and woo health centres. "As a supplier, we have chosen UNICEF," reveals the minister. "We have also bought 66 ambulances. This is the first time since independence that the government has taken such measures and financed the whole project itself."

This new policy has already seen results. 14m children have been vaccinated against polio; 2m children, aged between 6 months and 14 years, have been vaccinated against measles; anti-retroviral treatment has been provided for 53,788 people living with HIV/AIDS; over 35,000 units of blood have been collected; 88% of cases of microscopy positive pulmonary tuberculosis have been cured; 17,122,416 mosquito nets soaked in insecticide have been distributed. Finally, the government has supplied the referral hospitals of Gemena and Ankoro with essential general medicine and, thanks to the support of partners including the World Bank, 238 healthcare zones have received extra medicine stock

Today, the government is working on rolling out universal healthcare. "We have no wish to commit the same mistakes as other African countries; we will start by observing good practice. The problem is that our country is unique, in that 77% of the population work in the informal economy. So, we cannot roll out universal healthcare in this context. We are now considering what methods can be employed to encourage them to participate in the system. Until we manage to do this, other projects must be launched."
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Author:Mohamed, Dounia Ben
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6ZAIR
Date:Dec 1, 2013
Words:1232
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