Women and families in rural areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been beaten down physically and mentally by years of war, poverty, and violence, but a Johns Hopkins School of Nursing researcher and her team suggest that a baby pig has the power to turn despair into hope, even reducing symptoms of PTSD and depression.
Since 2009, Nancy Glass
, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing
, has helped families in the DRC improve their income and health through her “Pigs for Peace”
program, which gives residents pigs to breed, sell, and eat. Through the program, the families’ household incomes have increased, and women have been able to meet the nutritional, educational, and economic needs of the family.
But Glass says that a recent further study revealed other significant results—as the pig and other animal assets have increased and become more successful, symptoms of PTSD and depression, present in many of the women having multiple and prolonged exposure to traumatic events, have simultaneously faded. The study, which was conducted in 10 villages in eastern DRC, included 705 women.
A simple equation maybe, but it’s not just the idea of more wealth, she says, that causes the decrease in symptoms. It’s the “strengthening of self-perception of status” and the “larger community’s perception of the woman’s productivity and status” that can influence mental health.
“Using pigs is culturally acceptable and a gender-neutral intervention for the DRC,” comments Glass, “which allows men and women to work together to improve their outcomes. It provides psychosocial support to address mental health needs, and it supplements the family’s economic security. It’s really a win-win for all.”
As is the case in many low-resource countries, the DRC has few government-funded programs and health centers that can help with psychotherapeutic treatment or mental health issues, and doctors and nurses don’t receive timely training for diagnosing and treating mental disorders. Fortunately, the Pigs for Peace program provides support for the residents to develop and implement their own program to improve mental health, which is crucial to ending a dependence on international aid and the well-meaning but essentially “one and done” help offered by non-residents.
Glass stresses that it is internal resources and support that will make a difference for the community. “Pigs for Peace give these families opportunities. They can maintain food for themselves, and create a savings account for when needed. We know that livestock and microfinance will not solve all the problems faced by the DRC residents, but they are powerful steps in the right direction of sustainable development.”
The study’s findings will contribute to the science base for large-scale implementation of sustainable, community-led animal/livestock economic programs that not only increase household wealth and status but improve health in areas where women and other household members have extremely limited access to high quality health and social services.
The research team included: Nancy Glass, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Baltimore, Maryland; Nancy A. Perrin, Center for Health Research, Portland, Oregon; Anjalee Kohli, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing; and Mitima Mpanano Remy, Programme d’Appui aux Initiatives Economiques (PAIDEK), Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo.
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