Healthcare in Congo-Brazzaville: A Holistic Approach

Joseph Damba is a physician and engineer on environmental and health issues. He has two years’ experience of volunteer activities in community development, environmental and health areas in particular.  Joseph has a doctorate in Medicine and a master’s degree from the University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. 

In recent years, Africa has faced serious health issues such as HIV, malaria and cholera. With reference to HIV/AIDS pandemic, for example, Africa is paying a heavy price. According to  the World Health Organization, more than 25 million people were affected in 2015. My country is not spared. Cholera for claimed more than one thousand cases during the period between January and June 2012 in Congo-Brazzaville. Recently, the whole world recoiled in horror at one of the worst epidemic of ebola, which caused the death of more than 10,000 in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

These issues are basically due to the lack of resources, which is the main problem in my home country. They are a threat to health, and an obstacle to sustainable development.

Joseph (center) enjoys a picnic dinner with other Mandela Fellows. (Photo by Meagan Doll)
Joseph (center) enjoys a picnic dinner with other Mandela Fellows. (Photo by Meagan Doll)

In Africa, the practice of medicine has always been focused on the treatment of illness. It’s time now to change that tendency, and adopt a holistic approach to health in order to find solutions suitable to our sociological, cultural and economic context.

This idea is a holistic or multidisciplinary approach of health, based on prevention. Most of the time, prevention is cheaper than treatment. In limited resource countries like us, we should build on and develop preventive strategies.

For instance, In Congo-Brazzaville, we have lots of stereotypes and misconceptions about diseases. The holistic approach to health I advocate for is aimed at stimulating changes in behavior with regard to public health.

In so doing, we want to create a large network of preventive care, including professionals in areas closely linked to health such as anthropology, urban planning, nutrition, surgery, psychology  and community leadership.

This idea came from my experience in community health as a volunteer. I have observed significant changes in my three years as a health volunteer in Senegal. For example, we organized a public campaign to raise awareness about prostate cancer. This has reduced the number of metastasis prostate cancer cases and increased life expectancy for patients in Senegal. In 2010, I participated in a public awareness campaign in a small gold mining community, which had the highest prevalence of HIV in this region. Most of people I interviewed have never received information about HIV, ways of transmission or prevention. I It was only after our awareness campaign that they were able to protect themselves. In 2012, a high level of social mobilization after a public campaign in Burkina Faso has prevented the occurrence of this epidemic. Those examples confirm that we can obtain significant success if the community is involved in the process of change.

So, with the knowledge and connections I will gain during the Mandela Washington Fellowship, my goal is to build a large network of professionals in different fields of knowledge to tackle the challenge of community health in my country. My main focus will be public epidemiological surveillance and preventive consultation in collaboration with local authorities. In this way, I think we can improve the health and the well-being of people in my country and the world.