When violence erupted in the aftermath of independence in 1960, most European medical staff fled Congo. The country had no African doctors, and the health care system was one of the poorest in the world. In response, the World Health Organization recruited doctors to work in Congo and to train local Congolese in health care practices. Although the situation has improved somewhat, there is still a great shortage of trained doctors.

The Institut National de la SÚcuritÚ Sociale is supposed to provide pensions, family allowances and insurance coverage for sickness, under an obligatory national insurance plan. In reality, the government spends very little on health care. 

The quality of hospitals in Congo remains poor, and medical facilities are available only in larger centres. Doctors and hospitals expect cash payment in full for health services. Medicines are very expensive, and patients must often provide their own bandages and medical supplies.

Congo has been affected by the AIDS epidemic, spread mainly through the heterosexual population. Other common diseases include malaria, gastroenteritis, tuberculosis, leprosy, sleeping sickness and schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia). Schistosomiasis is caused by tiny blood flukes (worms) that enter the veins and lay eggs. Another illness is caused by the larvae of the tumba fly. The flies lay their eggs on damp clothing, and the larvae burrow under the skin and cause itching.  Malaria affects one in five Africans every year. There is a rare form of the disease that can cause death in a day or two, but malaria is usually not fatal and attacks usually last only a few days. However, if the sufferer does not take preventive medicine, he or she may contract malaria many times each year. 

Congolese from all walks of life consult traditional healers to treat illnesses, particularly in rural areas. People may consult a doctor and a traditional healer for the same health problem. They also go to healers for other problems, such as theft, marital disputes and unemployment. Many Congolese distinguish between "natural" afflictions, which are sent by God, and problems caused by witchcraft.

 Herbs are commonly used to treat health problems. Kongo bololo leaf is used for malaria. Ginger provides a treatment for back problems. Palm oil is used for asthma. Many ailments are treated with tomato leaves, banana leaves, garlic and other natural remedies.

  Did you know?
Sleeping sickness is caused by the tsetse fly, which is about twice the size of the common house fly. One of the symptoms is physical and mental lethargy.