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  • Neelley Hicks

Saving Lives through Education

Mwenze stated, “I [now] know my blood pressure because I fell ill, and it was at the health center that I knew my blood pressure for the first time.”


Mwenze Kaloa Daniel and his wife, Ilunga Mikombe Francine, are parents of eight children, including three girls and five boys. They live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a vast country in central Africa with over 89 million people. Unfortunately, the country has been plagued by decades of war, conflict, and political instability, which have devastated the health and well-being of its people. Hypertension has become a significant health concern due to poor diet and health conditions. The high levels of poverty have left many citizens unable to afford the nutritious food they need to maintain their health. Lack of access to healthy foods has led to increased hypertension rates along with poor salaries, malnutrition, large families, depression, and work stress, particularly among those living in rural areas.



At the North Katanga Annual Conference, leaders conducted conversations to determine how well pastors and lay people are educated about high blood pressure disease – a silent killer among family and church members in the region. North Katanga Episcopal Area Bishop Mande Muyombo urged Rev. Dr. Betty Kazadi, chair of the health committee, to create a station at the conference to take the delegates' blood pressure. The objective was to help each leader in each district become aware of their blood pressure numbers and be informed on the importance of maintaining healthy blood pressure.



Among the leaders interviewed, many were married with large families of five to eleven children; some were field workers or drivers and had multiple roles of family, community, and leadership responsibilities.


Most pastors in North Katanga suffer from hypertension. According to a survey of the leaders that included 14 districts out of 24 at the North Katanga annual conference, many pastors and laity did not know their blood pressure. Often, many die from the disease without ever knowing the cause of death.


Three key factors play a role in educating Congolese citizens about health and diet and its effects on hypertension – the food culture, health education in schools and communities, and pregnancy-related health factors.


FOOD


The food culture in Congo is diverse, with a wide range of traditional dishes and ingredients, including cassava, plantains, beans, peanuts, and leafy greens. The standard Congolese diet is based on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and fish. These foods are rich in nutrients that help to regulate blood pressure and keep the heart healthy. However, in recent years, the availability of processed and high-fat foods has increased, leading to a rise in hypertension rates. Processed foods are often cheaper and more accessible than healthier options, making them the go-to choice for many Congolese citizens. Additionally, many people need more education or resources to understand the importance of a healthy diet and its impact on their health and well-being. Food education is critical in these villages and communities to manage hypertension and avoid other illnesses like cardiovascular disease.


EDUCATION


The Conference has implemented numerous initiatives to promote healthier diets and lifestyles within the region. These include an awareness campaign created by Harper Hill Global in partnership with Colleagues in Care and the North Katanga Episcopal Area. An animated video, a song, a coloring book, and the use of text messaging reach people where they are for preventing hypertension.


The Shungu Clinic leads weekly health education classes for pregnant women to encourage healthy behavior practices.



One of the media resources focuses on childhood education which helps children become health envoys in their own lives. They learn how to spot symptoms of hypertension and how to prevent it. The book shares how the grandmother's untreated hypertension caused her to lose certain life functions, such as language and mobility, while the grandfather had difficulty breathing and swollen legs. Often when sickness affects older adults, it is most often attributed to the effects of aging. The grandson featured in the story became aware because of the health education he received in school. He understood that the loss of language was a stroke caused by hypertension. He encouraged his grandparents to seek medical attention, and it was determined that both grandparents were suffering from high blood pressure.


The family is happy when everyone is in good physical and mental health,” says Nurse Mireille Nfumuat. “So, it may be that [a family member] falls ill. Everyone will be sad. The family becomes sad and devoid of joy because the grandmother has fallen; she does not speak anymore. This prompts us to say that she is sick; what are we going to do” she continues. With proper healthcare, “The family is happy, and the grandmother plays with her [grandchildren] when everyone is healthy.”


Understanding that hypertension is caused by several things: tobacco, unhealthy food, pregnancy onset, or obesity helps people realize the link to complications in vital organs such as the heart, brain, and kidneys. This education helps dispel the myth that illness and disease are caused by something done to or by someone in the family, such as family curses.


One of the many factors that affect the family seeking and receiving regular medical attention is money, which can pose a considerable challenge to families in the Congo. Health insurance is difficult to comply with, and the average salary is minimal, which makes going to the doctor an additional financial burden.


This is why the educational approach is so crucial. Improving the diet and nutrition of Congolese people is a critical step toward preventing the disastrous outcomes of untreated hypertension. This can be achieved through various interventions, including the ongoing education and awareness campaign resulting from Harper Hill Global’s partnership with Colleagues in Care and the North Katanga Episcopal Area. Organizing this effort among the leaders in the villages, at school, in the family, in the health center, and in the church helps more people understand the importance of a balanced diet, local food production, and access to nutritious foods.


PREGNANCY


Hypertension in a pregnant woman can cause complications in both the mother and the child. Educating pregnant women to have their blood pressure checked at regular clinic visits allows for safety in pregnancy and childbirth for the optimum health of both the mother and the child. It helps to detect health risks, such as preeclampsia.



Harper Hill Global partnered with Firdaus Kharah to produce an animated video called “A Better Life: Safe Pregnancy” to illustrate young women being taught about blood pressure monitoring during pregnancy to extend knowledge beyond the Shungu Clinic. By sharing the video online and through local television, people who cannot travel to the clinic still receive the education they need. The video is now available in English, Swahili, French, Hausa, Portuguese, Spanish, and a new version in Pidgin English will soon be available.


In addition, a song was produced under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Betty Kazadi Musau that tells the story of a pregnant woman who is helped by others who recognize the symptoms of hypertension. This song plays on radio stations to again reach beyond the walls of the Shungu Clinic. Listen now.


Stressing the importance of diet and healthy eating, managing stress, and regular checkups are essential and are part of the educational effort to help pregnant women and their children.


Dr. Patrick Kilunji expresses his appreciation for this initiative saying, "First of all, we give thanks to God, master of time, who wanted this program to be. Thanks to Harper Hill Global and partners for choosing the Shungu Clinic as a pilot center in Congo and Africa. I am satisfied with the program that has saved a lot of people, especially pregnant women. I'm happy to see that since we started with the program, no maternal deaths have been recorded."


An Invitation


Harper Hill Global’s creative campaigns unite people to nurture wellness and wholeness. You can help us extend the reach of health education by using our resources in your community, volunteering to mentor health and communication professionals, and donating.


Together, we build a better world for all.





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