Blindness in Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is located in Central sub-Saharan Africa. Formerly known as Zaire (1971-1997), it is the second largest country in Africa. It is also one of the poorest and least politically stable countries in the world. Once renowned in Africa for the quality of physicians, the political and economic turmoil of the past three decades has caused the collapse of the country’s health care system.
An estimated 70% of Congolese people have little or no access to any health care, let alone eye care. The hospitals and clinics that do exist lack trained personnel and equipment, and often run out of critical medicine and supplies.
Cataracts are the largest cause of blindness, but many in the DRC remain at risk from onchocerciasis (river blindness), due to the large number of rivers that flow through the country. With an estimated 800,000 blind Congolese, organizations like SEE International are especially crucial in countries like the DRC.
SEE in Democratic Republic of Congo
SEE has been working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2008, primarily in Boma, Diengenga, and Kinshasha (the country’s capital).
In Boma, SEE partners with Joseph Konde, MD, at the Blindness Prevention Program (Prolhavic) at the Boma Eye Clinic. Each year, Dr. Konde screens about 25,000 patients, and performs about 700 surgeries using the equipment and medical supplies provided by SEE.
In 2014, SEE began collaborating with Diengenga Hospital, and Ohio-based nonprofit Global Ministries, to organize large-scale sight-restoring campaigns every 2 years. The first year, more than 4,000 people arrived seeking care. In July 2017, SEE held an 11-day campaign in Diengenga, where in-country partner Roger Kapembu, MD, and visiting SEE surgeon Kris Karlen, MD, provided free sight-restoring surgery to more than 250 people with cataracts.
In June 2015, a very special SEE program was held in Kinshasha, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. That year, SEE partnered with NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, and the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, to bring our first sight-restoring campaign to the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital. SEE’s surgical efforts were led by Helena Ndume, MD, of Windhoek, Namibia and Scott Hickman of Lawrence, Kansas. On this trip to the Congo, SEE’s volunteer surgeons provided 107 sight-restoring surgeries to blind patients. Their efforts helped lay the groundwork for future expeditions and training, so that local eye doctors can provide care in the region year-round. Read more about that campaign here.