The village protecting mothers and babies in DR Congo

How MSF is working to reduce maternal and child mortality in Walikale territory, North Kivu province.

Woman standing next to her newborn twins resting on a hospital bed.

DRC © 2024 Marion Molinari/MSF

Every month around 30 women with high-risk pregnancies, many from remote or isolated villages, come to give birth in at the Walikale general reference hospital.

Set up by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in 2018, approximately 90 miles east of Goma in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the “village d’accueil,” or “host village,” is a place inside the hospital that offers specialized care and temporary housing for women during the period leading up to and following childbirth. The goal is to reduce maternal and child mortality.

"Here, women are not only medically monitored, but also given shelter, food, and access to clean water and showers," explained Séraphin Kikwabantu, the head of the hospital's gynecology-maternity department.

Pregnant woman sits at Walikale center in North Kivu.
Apolline Uwezo walked for two days to reach the hospital, determined to give birth in the best possible conditions. “During my last delivery, I lost my child. This time I am expecting twins. Thanks to the close monitoring of my pregnancy, I hope to give birth without many complications," she said.
DRC © 2024 Marion Molinari/MSF

Lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care

Accessing sexual and reproductive health services in DRC is exceptionally difficult for women and girls. Even before the recent increase in violence, the country's health care infrastructure was fragile with insufficient funding and a lack of resources. Combined with the unaffordable costs of health care and difficult geographical access, DRC has some of the highest rates of maternal and neonatal deaths in the world.

For pregnant women in remote villages within Walikale territory, long distances pose a barrier to accessing prenatal care and health facilities, discouraging the early seeking of care. As a result, many women, particularly those with high-risk or complicated pregnancies, die en route to the hospital, or just as they finally reach it—something MSF is aiming to prevent with the host village.

Women walking with umbrellas outside a village in North Kivu.
Women and children walk to the Walikale general reference hospital in North Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The territory's only ambulance has been out of action for months and has not been replaced yet. Pregnant women who walk to the hospital often arrive in critical condition.
DRC © 2024 Marion Molinari/MSF

High-risk pregnancies

Local health centers refer women to the host village after diagnosing a high-risk pregnancy. Other women with histories of high-risk births, health conditions, or previous Cesarean sections are also advised to go. 

Head of Walikale hospital's gynecology-maternity department

Séraphin Kikwabantu

This initiative helps us to save women's lives. For most women, there are no nearby health care centers, and even if they do manage to reach one, often the high cost of care and medications makes it completely unaffordable for them. By having the women stay at the host village in advance of their expected due date, we can decrease complications, mitigating the risk of death for mother and baby.

My mother died of a post-partum hemorrhage because there was no hospital where we lived. That really hurt me. I wanted to do this job to help women and contribute to saving these mothers.

Man in dark pink shirt speaks at Walikale hospital.

MSF medical teams provide prenatal consultations for all women as soon as they arrive at the host village, and check for and provide necessary treatment for diseases that can be harmful for the babies, such as syphilis and malaria

In addition to medical care, pregnant women can benefit from mental health sessions at MSF’s Tumaini clinic, which takes its name from the Swahili word for “hope,” located within the hospital. Contraception counseling is also available, allowing women to choose between short- and long-term contraceptives.

Lab technician analyzes samples from patients.
Modestine Musaada is a laboratory technician at the MSF-supported Walikale general reference hospital. She analyzes biological samples from patients treated by MSF.
DRC © 2024 Marion Molinari/MSF

MSF’s work in Walikale territory

The host village has hosted and cared for around 1,800 women since it opened five years ago. More than 440 babies are born every month in the maternity unit of Walikale general reference hospital, where MSF teams work in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health, and in 2023, a total of 5,070 deliveries were carried out in MSF-supported facilities in Walikale territory.

Woman holding a newborn.
Espérance has just given birth to her daughter at Walikale general reference hospital. On average, 350 deliveries take place here every month.
DRC © 2024 Marion Molinari/MSF

MSF supports several services at the general reference hospital of Walikale in partnership with the Ministry of Health, including maternal, neonatal, and pediatric care, as well general health care at 10 health care centers. MSF also provides mental health care for victims of sexual and gender-based violence in Tumaini clinic.