Summer 2012 Trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) - Initial Report

The primary goals and objectives for the current trip are the following:

  1. Attend the annual review of the 2011 onchocerciasis control programs in DRC
  2. Register UFAR with the DRC Interior Ministry to obtain tax-exempt status for imported goods
  3. Complete the registration of UFAR with the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for access to their reliable air transportation service
  4. Determine local rules and regulations pertaining to hiring UFAR's country representative, especially with regards to salaries and benefits guidelines
  5. Ensure adequate training and proper orientation of the recently appointed project coordinator for the Lubutu project
  6. Ensure proper initiation of the WHO/APOC-sponsored operational study on the potential roles of cell phones and bicycles distributed to selected community workers on the overall outcomes of the CDTI program
  7. Visit dozens of villages in the Kasongo and Lubutu regions for interviews and photo opportunities with village chiefs to support our adopt/save a village program
  8. Arrange special meetings with local political authorities and business men to engage them for stronger support and ownership of the onchocerciasis control and elimination programs

The SN Belgian flight I took from JFK to Kinshasa via Brussels was smooth, timely and uneventful, leaving JFK on June 25 at 6 PM and arriving at Ndjili International Airport in Kinshasa on June 26 at 5:30 PM. How wonderful it was to have my older son Peter and his beautiful new bride of less than a year join me on this trip, even if for just 11 days because of commitments to his relatively new job up in Boston.

The regular annual meeting to review in details the 2011 Mectizan distribution activities throughout DRC for the control of onchocerciasis was held from July 2-4, 2012 and was attended by approximately 40 people, including 20 of the 21 project coordinators, 12 senior managers and staff of the Programme National de Lutte Contre l'Onchocercose (PNLO) and several invited guests, of which I was a member. The meeting was officially opened by Dr. Kupa Mukengeshayi, representing the Secretary General of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Pierre Lokadi who was unable to attend. Dr. Mukengeshayi was introduced by Dr. Naomi Awaca, the recently appointed Director of PNLO and the first woman to occupy this important and challenging position. The opening session was covered on the national television. The various agenda items for the 3-day meeting included comprehensive reports by all 20 project coordinators. Unfortunately, the coordinator for our Ituri north project was the only one of the project coordinators who did not make it to the meeting. His report was presented by a PNLO staff but was not discussed. I am in process of reaching out to him for further discussions. I found this annual review meeting quite well organized and well executed. I plan to remain in Kinshasa at least for the next couple of weeks addressing other issues.