A Congolese community-based health program for survivors of sexual violence
1 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, 21205, USA
2 Foundation RamaLevina, Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa
3 Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health, Baltimore, MD, 21205, USA
Conflict and Health 2012, 6:6 doi:10.1186/1752-1505-6-6Published: 29 August 2012
Many survivors of gender based violence (GBV) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) report barriers to access health services including, distance, cost, lack of trained providers and fear of stigma. In 2004, Foundation RamaLevina (FORAL), a Congolese health and social non-governmental organization, started a mobile health program for vulnerable women and men to address the barriers to access identified by GBV survivors and their families in rural South Kivu province, Eastern DRC. FORAL conducted a case study of the implementation of this program between July 2010-June 2011 in 6 rural villages. The case study engaged FORAL staff, partner health care providers, community leaders and survivors in developing and implementing a revised strategy with the goal of improving and sustaining health services. The case study focused on: (1) Expansion of mobile clinic services and visit schedule; (2) Clinical monitoring and evaluation system; and (3) Recognition, documentation and brief psychosocial support for symptoms suggestive of anxiety, depression and PTSD. During this period, FORAL treated 772 women of which 85% reported being survivors of sexual violence. Almost half of the women (45%) reported never receiving health services after the last sexual assault. The majority of survivors reported symptoms consistent with STI. Male partner adherence to STI treatment was low (41%). The case study demonstrated areas of strengths in FORAL’s program, including improved access to health care by survivors and their male partner, enhanced quality of health education and facilitated regular monitoring, follow-up care and referrals. In addition, three critical areas were identified by FORAL that needed further development: provision of health services to young, unmarried women in a way that reduces possibility of future stigma, engaging male partners in health education and clinical care and strengthening linkages for referral of survivors and their partners to psychosocial support and mental health services. FORAL’s model of offering health education to all community members, partnering with local providers to leverage resources and their principal of avoiding labeling the clinic as one for survivors will help women and their families in the DRC and other conflict settings to comfortably and safely access needed health care services.