This idea is founded on the principle that wealth is a primary, fundamental determinant of health and early child development. Despite economic indicators of macro-economic progress, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is among the poorest countries in the world with a life expectancy of 48 years where 72% of the population living below the poverty line – the same level as 2005-2007. Malnutrition is chronic amongst a large part of the population and has been on the rise since 1995 with families spending 62% of their income on food. Rural farmers are particularly affected, as 80% of rural farmers are considered to be living in poverty. Child health indicators in DRC are similarly dire, as one of every ten children born in DRC will not reach the age of five. In relative terms, the DRC is one of six countries that together bear the burden of 50% of the worlds’ maternal mortality, the third largest contributor to mortality for children under five after India and Nigeria.
GRANT MAKING AND CAPACITY BUILDING OF ECI
In response to these challenges, Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) provides resources and funding through grant-making and capacity building for Congolese-led community-based organizations in the region working in economic development and maternal and child health (MNCH). Since 2010 ECI has partnered with rural farmers and local organizations to improve the quality and quantity of crops (such as coffee and cocoa) and to integrate conservation and rural agriculture to revitalize local markets and household economic stability. In the health sector, ECI partners with local organizations that focus on mothers, children under five and infants by supporting the development of community-based preventative healthcare systems and practices. ECI also works to convene health partners to promote local promising practice interventions that can be scaled and replicated through increased investment.
INTEGRATING HEALTH INTO AGRICULTURAL NETWORKS IN DRC
With this project, ECI aims to extrapolate lessons learned from our existing MNCH programming to integrate in our economic development programs as a component of the agricultural cooperative services. Wealth is fundamentally and causally linked to health and early child development, and will be addressed as we apply such innovative proven concepts as the insurance collectives to increase impact and sustainability of reinforcement to agricultural cooperatives.
WHY ITS NEEDED
Children under five in DRC are getting sick and dying from known causes that could be prevented if parents had the cash on hand to pay for preventive and curative health services (pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, malnutrition). Payment for health services is a great challenge in the Kivus in particular, as they are transitioning from humanitarian to development context they must find simple, sustainable and fast solution to pay for consultations and essential medicines. Low levels of income, lack of savings and payment mechanisms, and low prioritization of existing household resources on health (prevention, care, nutrition, and hygiene) lead to low health service utilization and poor health outcomes. Parent’s must have the cash on hand and recognize the importance of spending it on health at appropriate times.
HOW IT WORKS – INCREASE PARENTS INCOME
ECI’s financial, technical and administrative support to agricultural cooperatives has successfully boosted technology, managerial know-how and investment to improve agricultural practices and raise revenue for local farmers. Cooperatives are community-based commercial enterprises that exist to collectively pool resources for farm investment and leverage the voice of many to negotiate fair prices. As individuals, farmers often lack the resources and knowledge to invest in their farms and access markets, however when resources are pooled, quality and quantity of their production is likely to improve. Farming households pay annual dues to cooperatives that provide agricultural training, access to value-added technology, and eventually, a stable market. Members farm their own plots, but gather monthly in groups of approximately 20 households for trainings. After the harvest, which happens generally once or twice a year, the cooperative should purchase the crop yield of members and sell the collective yield at fair negotiated price. General assemblies bring together members of the cooperative to determine profit distribution. In addition to reducing cost of production and increasing farmer’s incomes, cooperatives are also tasked with contributing to social wellbeing of their members.
HOW IT WORKS – INCREASE PARENT’S HEALTH SPENDING
Building from these achievements, we propose to integrate a successful community based insurance model to pool risk and facilitate couple’s payment for maternal and child health services. ECI has supported HEAL Africa’s Safe Motherhood program on Idjwi Island in S. Kivu since its 2012 inception, having also previously supported a similar intervention in Masisi territory in N. Kivu. The Safe Motherhood program has created over a thousand solidarity insurance groups in the region, more than 70 percent of which are still in operation and independent of HEAL. These health insurance groups are formally registered groups of couples (10 - 25), who gather monthly to pay the membership fee (less than a dollar a month) and regulate requests and demands for pooled maternity funds. Whenever a pregnant woman goes to the health clinic for reproductive health services, prenatal care or delivery, the insurance group pays half the bill. This model will be expanded to include health services for children under five.
Lessons using behavior change communication for health promotion will be added to existing training events for couples registered in the agricultural cooperatives. These will include essential family practices such as those related to:
- Water and Sanitation (hand washing with soap, latrine use, point of use water treatment)
- Insecticide treated bed nets for kids and pregnant women
- Oral rehydration salt home treatment of diarrhea
- Safe sex
- Family planning
- Healthy nutrition for pregnant women and kids, use of iodized salt
- Breast feeding for first six months
- Danger signs for newborns and pregnant women
- Prenatal visits and health center deliveries
- Child wellness visits and birth registration
- Vaccination for kids and pregnant women
QUESTIONS FOR COMMUNITY:
- How to make cooperative registrations more inclusive (expand from from individual members to households)?
- How to increase women’s participation in cooperatives?
- How can we understand and influence parent’s decision-making for spending income?
- How can we ensure that demand doesn’t exceed the funds available in common piggy bank for health insurance?
- How to set a reasonable monthly fee given the expansion of services covered from mothers to include children?
- How to encourage parents to prioritize food security and healthy diet for their children?
- How to formalize village banking for collective use (including health insurance)?
- How do we bring technology into this idea (communications, financial transactions, transparency, etc)?