Cultural Traditions

Because of both cultural traditions and a lack of access to Western medicine, many Congolese rely on homemade herbal remedies or seek care from traditional midwives or traditional healers called ngangas (Inungu, 2010). Ngangas are believed able to determine whether an illness was caused by natural or supernatural forces and to prescribe appropriate treatments such as wearing a talisman to ward off evil or drinking an herbal potion. Some of the treatments used by traditional practitioners undoubtedly help (if only through a placebo effect), but others undoubtedly cause harm.

Paying Doctors and Hospitals In theory, doctors and hospitals receive regular salaries and budgets from the federal government. In practice, many doctors have been paid little or nothing for years, so they support themselves by charging fees to patients and their families. Most hospitals now receive most of their funding from nonprofit organizations based in the more developed nations.

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Access to Care According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, 70% of Congolese people have little or no access to modern medical care. Most of the rest rely on temporary facilities staffed by international aid workers. Meanwhile, the wealthiest Congolese travel to South Africa or elsewhere whenever they need care.

Health Outcomes By all measures, health outcomes in the DRC are abysmal. Average life expectancy is only 60 years, far below that in most nations around the world. Similarly, 69 of every 1000 babies die in infancy—12 times higher than in the United States. That said, these numbers are considerably better than they were just a few years ago.