Applying Leadership Skills to Improve Maternal Health in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with 990 deaths per 100,000 live births. Health workers often struggle with poor working conditions and a lack of equipment, drugs and medical supplies. These challenges can lead to frustrated staff focusing on the lack of resources rather than providing quality health care services to the people they serve. 

Under the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Leadership, Management and Sustainability Program, being implemented in the DRC by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), these challenges are being met with renewed vigor. In the Yangala health zone in the Luiza health district, Chief Medical Officer Odé Kanku Kabemba was one of those struggling. But since October 2009, Dr. Kanku Kabemba has been taking a new approach as a result of new skills and approaches developed since he and four colleagues participated in the MSH Leadership Development Program (LDP).

The LDP was developed by MSH in 2002. The program works with teams of health managers and their staff to create a common vision and desired result to overcome a real work place challenge. The main tool for the LDP is the Challenge Model. The teams prepare an action plan with specific activities to address their challenge and achieve their desired result within six months.

Recognizing the high risks of maternal and infant mortality associated with malaria, Dr. Kanku Kabemba and his team hoped to increase the number of pregnant women being offered an effective drug treatment to combat this problem. The drug, Sulfadoxine Pyrimethamine (commonly known as Fansidar), is an effective preventative treatment against malaria for expectant mothers, but maintaining a regular supply is difficult in the DRC, where resources are scarce and counterfeit medications often flood the market. As part of the LDP, the team developed a plan to increase the rate of women being treated with this drug from 11.2% in late December 2009 to a rate of 50% by the end of June 2010.

Using knowledge they gained through the LDP, the team put in place an action plan to achieve their goal. Priority activities included setting one fixed price for the drug in all 30 facilities in the health zone, mobilizing local resources to be able to obtain more supply of the drug, and training health care providers in the management of essential and generic medicines.  In addition, the team conducted an advocacy campaign with local authorities to build awareness of the important benefits of the drug and how its availability was a key to maternal and child health in the region.  By June 2010, 50% of the pregnant women being treated in the zone were receiving the medication.

This is just one example of improvements in maternal and child health under the LMS program in the 23 rural health zones in the Kasai Oriental and Kasai Occidental provinces, where the program is being implemented. Since late last year, positive increases have also been seen in the rate of births assisted by qualified personnel, rate of coverage of prenatal care, and rate of treatment for children under age 5 with respiratory infections.

“This program is important for us because it helps us to discover our own abilities. It may be applied in any area of life and at all levels of personnel.  It allows us to commit ourselves to achieve results in all situations,” says Dr.  Kanku Kabemba.  “Leadership is an ability that anyone can develop to meet challenges and achieve results in complex situations.”

Read more about this program. [PDF, 246 KB]