Democratic Republic of Congo

The DRC has the third largest population (approx. 60 million) and the second largest land area in sub-Saharan Africa. While the country has adequate economic resources, poverty is widespread throughout the country. According to the World Food Program, 70% of the population, or 35 million people, are undernourished. Eighty percent of the population has no access to safe water and 79% has little or no access to health care. Infant mortality is 92.9 per 1000 live births and under five mortality is 205 per 1000.

In 2004 HIV prevalence among adults was estimated to be 4.5%, or about 1.1 million people, less than 5,000 of whom have access to antiretroviral therapy (ART). As of 2003, 100,000 people had died from AIDS, leaving an estimated 770,000 AIDS orphans throughout the country.

Collaborations in DRC

UNC faculty worked in Zaire (now DRC) with Project SIDA from the mid-1980s until 1991, returning to the DRC in 2001. The CDC established Project SIDA in 1984 to investigate the first reported cases of AIDS in Africa. Dr. Jonathan Mann was the first Project SIDA director and was replaced in 1986 by Dr. Robert Ryder at UNC, and another UNC investigator,  Dr. Frieda Behets, served as Project SIDA lab director from 1988 to 1991.

In 1991, project SIDA was shut down due to the country's economic collapse and political crisis. Beginning in 2001, with return of civilian and military stability in the country, Drs. Ryder and Behets, together with other UNC investigators - Drs. Annelies Van Rie, Steven Callens and Steven Meshnick - re-established collaboration with the Kinshasa School of Public Health and initiated large-scale HIV-related research efforts which are being rapidly expanded.

This partnership has led to an impressive research portfolio and important UNC contributions to the policies of the national HIV and TB control programs:

  • With National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) support, UNC conducts research on STI’s, prevention of MTCT, malaria, and TB in two large maternity clinics, and has established a peer intervention project on adolescent STI and HIV.
  • A pioneering study on diagnosis and treatment of major mental depression in post-partum women
  • Building HIV research infrastructure at the pediatric infectious disease clinic of Kalembe Lembe
  • With support from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) UNC investigators designed one of the first cohort studies in Africa to investigate the effects of HIV on children’s neurodevelopment.


For more information on global health projects in the DRC, click here.