Last updated on
Congolese Deputy Prime Minister Christophe Lutundula and ITG Board Chairman and Provincial Governor Cathy Berx sign the Headquarters Agreement at Egmont Palace on 20 October 2021. Minister Meryame Kitir looks on. © Lorena Nasello
The agreement gives the ITM a solid statutory basis for establishing a department in the DR Congo. The purpose of this is to strengthen and expand the numerous activities in the country in collaboration with Congolese partners.
Strong ties with the DR Congo
The ITM has strong ties with the DR Congo. In colonial times, the ITM was mainly a hospital for people returning from the tropics and a training institute for those who travelled to those regions.
But following decolonisation, the ITM grew into a leading centre of expertise in tropical (veterinary) medicine and public health, including HIV/AIDS. The institute contributes towards the advancement of medical science through fundamental and applied research, continuing education, and advice from its experts.
It also provides services to the people of Belgium. For example, it comprises an HIV/STD clinic (for sexually transmitted diseases) and travellers can receive medical guidance before and after a stay abroad.
But the ties with the Congo and other partners worldwide were never lost. As such, the ITM has been an essential partner of the Belgian Development Cooperation in the realisation of SDG3, which aims to ensure 'healthy lives'.
The focus in the DR Congo is on training, medical research, and disease control. The Institute in Antwerp plays a role in the fight against Ebola, sleeping sickness, and other emerging diseases. It also exchanges knowledge on other public health issues such as bacterial infections.
Eradicating sleeping sickness
An important area of work in Congo is the eradication of sleeping sickness. This deadly disease is claiming victims in 13 African countries, 70% of them in the Congo. In 2017, the Belgian Development Cooperation, the Congolese authorities and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave the green light for work by the ITM and its Congolese partners to eliminate sleeping sickness by 2030.
The efforts have paid off: the number of cases has fallen rapidly in recent years. In order to give an extra boost to the fight against sleeping sickness, the Minister of Development Cooperation, Meryame Kitir, pledged 5.6 million euros at the signing of the headquarters agreement. This will fund sophisticated strategies against sleeping sickness with new screening processes and innovative diagnostics and medications.
The ITM's primary goal is to give a boost to its local partner institutions. It is also essential that they determine their own research priorities. After all, the ITM regards its partners very much as equals, and this is also the case in the Congo, of course.
'The philosophy of the relationship with the partners does not change, but rather strengthens the bonds,' Marc-Alain Widdowson, Director of the ITM, said at the signing. 'Collaboration and capacity-building with partners in Congo continue to be core principles.'