U.S. Government Support for Health Security: We were there before the first case of Ebola and we will be there long after the last.

U.S. Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar, U.S. Ambassador Mike Hammer, and DRC Health Minister Eteni Longondo

By: Mike Hammer, U.S. Ambassador to the DRC

In April 2019, the Governments of the United States and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) established the Privileged Partnership for Peace and Prosperity (#PP4PP) to highlight key areas on which we are going to work together for the benefit of both the American and the Congolese people.  This framework focuses on good governance, fighting corruption, ending violence in DRC’s east, increasing U.S. investment and economic prosperity, and, of course, a healthy Congolese population.  A key component of #PP4PP is the concept of global health security and the belief that the DRC must have the ability to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious diseases at their source.

There has been much coverage of the important Ebola epidemic in eastern DRC, and for good reason.  Ebola remains a significant issue and the United Nations recently extended its categorization as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, which ensures continued international attention and support.  However, the DRC can be justifiably proud of how it has responded to the epidemic to date. The United States is equally proud to have supported and to continue to support that work.

But there are other health challenges facing the DRC. The government’s recent universal health coverage initiative to improve access, quality, and financing of health services for Congolese people is laudable.  The U.S. government has helped the DRC develop its Mashako Plan for routine immunization strengthening – which aims to mitigate the impact of the ongoing outbreaks of polio and measles, the latter of which is the largest in the world.  The United States is the largest bilateral donor in health to the DRC, providing hundreds of millions of dollars per year so that millions of Congolese see better health outcomes and lead healthier, more productive lives as a result of U.S. support.

U.S. government agencies, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the U.S. Department of State’s Global AIDS Coordinator have long partnered with the DRC Ministry of Health and others to control HIV, TB, and malaria, to provide and support service delivery for pregnant women and newborns, and to promote vaccination and disease control for global health security.

Our work has particularly focused on training DRC’s courageous, frontline healthcare providers. Through its long-standing support of the Field Epidemiology Training Program at the Kinshasa School of Public Health (KSPH), CDC has supported training of more than 300 Congolese disease detectives who are responding to outbreaks in the DRC and internationally.  USAID invests in supporting masters and doctorate-level graduates from KSPH.  These highly trained health workers are critical both to DRC’s efforts to detect and control disease outbreaks and to ensuring quality primary care across the country.  USAID’s health programming currently extends to cover approximately ⅓ of the Congolese population with maternal and child health, nutrition, malaria and TB interventions reaching communities most at risk and in hard to reach areas.

The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has also made deep investments in DRC.  Since 2003, PEPFAR has invested in HIV prevention, detection, treatment and care.  PEPFAR currently supports antiretroviral treatment for over 117,000 people living with HIV in Congo.  These are 117,000 Congolese who are living healthy, productive lives as a result of life-saving U.S. investments.

The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), managed through USAID, continues to support the DRC’s National Malaria Control Program to reduce the life-threatening impact of malaria on the lives of Congolese families through the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, especially those most vulnerable to malaria – pregnant women and children;  strengthening the capacity of local organizations and the Ministry of Health to provide malaria care at all levels, including in communities far from health facilities; procuring rapid diagnostic tests for timely malaria diagnosis as well as life-saving medicines for malaria treatment and prevention of malaria in pregnant women in nine of DRC’s 26 provinces; supporting strengthening of the health system; and providing technical and management training for the prevention and control of malaria at all levels.

Through PEPFAR, CDC, and USAID, the U.S. Government has collaborated with DRC to support strong laboratories which are at the core of any country’s ability to prevent, identify, and respond to HIV, TB, and other diseases. They’re also critical to protecting the world’s health and security. From enabling fast and accurate HIV diagnoses to identifying and confirming cases of vaccine-preventable diseases, labs are essential to help control today’s epidemics and identify tomorrow’s health threats.

When done well, U.S. investments in health efforts in DRC not only provide creative solutions to urgent problems, but they also provide benefits beyond their immediate purpose. While early U.S.-DRC collaborations focused on HIV and TB, the underlying health systems we are strengthening together are helping DRC respond rapidly to a range of health threats – whether it’s Ebola, measles, polio, malaria, or the new coronavirus

Ambassador Michael (Mike) A. Hammer was confirmed as the U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on September 6, 2018.