Although some efforts have been made to improve healthcare in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the country's healthcare system remains in a poor state. Expats needing any serious medical care may seek help outside the country.
That said, basic healthcare facilities offering a reasonable standard of care are available in the main cities, such as Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. In rural areas, though, healthcare facilities are virtually non-existent.
Public healthcare in the DRC
The DRC's public healthcare system is in a desperate state of disrepair. Both facilities and adequately trained staff are seriously lacking.
In theory, the DRC has a four-tiered healthcare model. First-tier medical care is from nurses at community health centres, followed by general physicians in reference health centres for the second tier. Specialist care in provincial hospitals constitutes the third level, and finally, university hospitals are the fourth level. However, in practice, access to public medical facilities is severely lacking in rural and remote areas and places impacted by conflict.
The government works with NGOs and humanitarian medical organisations, such as Médecins Sans Frontières, to bridge the gap and offer mobile services. However, support is limited and expats are not likely to seek assistance at public healthcare facilities, even in a large city.
Private healthcare in the DRC
Most expats will opt for a private hospital or clinic in the country's capital, Kinshasa. Kinshasa hosts a few private hospitals which offer a decent level of care and meet Western standards. The doctors are well trained, and many speak English as well as French.
Some large foreign mining operations will have a doctor and a small on-site clinic to cater for the basic medical needs of their staff. Nevertheless, major medical emergencies usually require air evacuation to a country with better facilities, such as South Africa or further abroad in Europe.
Health insurance in the DRC
A comprehensive health insurance policy is essential for expats living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Those moving to work in the DRC as part of a corporate relocation package should ensure that their contract makes provisions for health insurance. We recommend ensuring coverage for medical repatriation abroad in the event of a medical emergency.
Pharmacies and medicine in the DRC
Pharmacies are available in major towns and cities. There are a few well-stocked pharmacies in Kinshasa.
Expats who require regular prescription medication should bring a sufficient supply from home along with them. This should be properly marked and accompanied by a script. As the legal status of certain medications varies across international borders, we recommend contacting the nearest DRC embassy for further guidance.
Pre-travel vaccinations in the DRC
Before travelling to the Congo, expats should consult a healthcare professional such as their GP to ask about recommended vaccines. Some diseases that may be low risk in an expat's home country are prevalent in the DRC.
It is advised to stay up-to-date on all routine vaccinations as well as further recommended ones, including:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)
- Yellow fever
Expats should also consult with a healthcare practitioner on anti-malarial medication to take before, during and after travelling to the DRC.
Health concerns in the DRC
The DR Congo is prone to numerous tropical diseases. Main health concerns include malaria, waterborne diseases, HIV/AIDS and Ebola. Expats living in the DRC should follow all mandatory requirements and regulations and stay informed on the latest news.
Malaria is widespread and is the leading cause of death in the country. We recommend expats research the standard precautions when living in or travelling to a malaria-prone region. These include insect repellent and mosquito nets over beds, as well as consulting a healthcare professional about anti-malarial medication.
Waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid are also common, and expats should avoid drinking tap water.
HIV/AIDS has also presented a serious health problem in the country. Expats moving here should be aware of the risk of contracting the disease and follow the normal recommendations.
Ebola presents a risk in certain areas of the DRC, including Équateur, and there have been several outbreaks over the years.
Emergency services in the DRC
Emergency services are seriously lacking across the country. Expats may need to take a taxi or be driven to the nearest medical facility. It's typically recommended to contact the embassy of the expat's home country for support.
Air evacuation to another country with better health facilities, such as South Africa, will likely be necessary for any serious emergencies. Expats should ensure that they have sufficient health insurance to cover this.