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Aid Group: Congo Crisis Requires Immediate Attention

An international aid group is urging the global community to address the humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where people continue to suffer.

The International Rescue Committee says people are dying at an alarming rate in the Democratic Republic of Congo, even though the country's bloody five year war ended in 2003. The organization's health director, Dr. Richard Brennan, says the post-war crisis is compounded by malnutrition and the nation's devastated infrastructure.

"Because of the insecurity, because of the collapse of health systems, because farmers can't till their soil, because mothers can't take their children for vaccinations or to clinics, people are dying at rates that are extraordinary," he noted.

The aid organization released a mortality survey six months ago that showed 3.9 million people had died since the start of the war in 1998. Dr. Brennan says this means more than 1,000 people are dying each day, most of them needlessly.

"We have an enormous humanitarian crisis right here now," he added. "In eastern Congo the violence has actually increased since we did our study. Again the vast majority of deaths, in fact, about 90 percent of the deaths, are due to easily preventable and treatable diseases."

The International Rescue Committee runs healthcare programs in eastern, western and central Congo, providing training, medicine, equipment and support for local health facilities.

Dr. Brennan says a World Health Organization (WHO) commission report estimates it would cost between $30-$40 per year to provide access to essential health services for each person in low-income countries. However, Dr. Brennan believes positive results can be achieved with far less funding.

"We've found that in several of our country programs, we can establish very, very positive health outcomes, excellent levels of health outcomes, with investments that are on the order of $10-$12 per person per year," he explained. "But the facts remain the humanitarian support for health activities and other humanitarian needs in eastern Congo is completely out of proportion with the enormous needs there."

Dr. Brennan says humanitarian funding for eastern DRC is actually closer to $2 per person per year.