Prayers Are Not The Cure For Malaria

In southeastern Congo, where a malaria outbreak is killing young children, some believe the disease has mystical origins and turn to higher powers rather than doctors.

Baby receiving treatment for malaria at a municipal hospital in M'banza Congo
Baby receiving treatment for malaria at a municipal hospital in M'banza Congo
Maurice Mulamba

KONGOLO — The prayer and liberation ceremony in this southeastern Congolese city has been abruptly interrupted. The parents of a 4-year-old boy named Joyce, suffering from malaria, had brought him to the church earlier on this Monday morning, hoping it would heal him. But he died before the rite ended.

When the mother saw that her boy was dead, she threw herself to the floor, as her tears and those of her relatives instantly replaced the prayers and the songs. The priest's calls for calm had no effect on Joyce's family members, desperate and angry for not succeeding in saving the small boy.

"He only had fever for two days at home," cries Joyce's father.

Since September, panic has taken over the whole Kongolo area. Malaria has killed many — mostly young children aged under five. Emmanuel Mpungu, a local activist, claims that more than 20 children under the age of five are dying every day in the area. "The civil society has already warned the political and administrative authorities and the sanitary services," Mpungu explains.

There are some discrepancies about the death toll. John Bahati, the top local medical official, says that his structure reported 20 malaria-related deaths in September. But, he adds, "the numbers of the civil society aren't necessarily wrong. The deaths can be registered in different organizations, public or private."

Desperate, some parents turn to the church, hoping to find an improbable recovery for their children. "Never before have we seen such an epidemic in our territory, with so many deaths. Malaria, anemia, respiratory infections: All these diseases have exhausted and weakened our children," says Louise Kabwit. This 40-year-old mother believes, like many others, that the evil hitting their land is mystical. "Only God can save us," she says, resigned.

Heat and bugs

Some churches — especially those belonging to the "renewal movement" — take advantage of such groundless superstitions and ordain days, sometimes weeks, of prayers and fast. They claim to be doing this to liberate the territory from "the spirit of malaria."

But there are much more rational explanation for the resurgence of malaria at this time of year, i.e. rising autumn temperatures, after a comparitively cool July and August. This sudden change in temperatures creates extra risks for children and elderly people, while mosquitoes multiply in the heat and can cause the malaria virus to spread. "So you see, there's nothing mysterious about it," Bahati comments.

Families are warned to be wary of any first sign of fever among their children or old people and take them to appropriate medical structures. But there's only one reference hospital in the whole territory and patients there complain of the lack of aid and poor hygiene conditions.

"It's because the healthcare is of such poor quality that the sick choose instead to go and see traditional practitioners or priests," reckons Luc Mumba, another leading activist of Kongolo. But when it comes to malaria, it is only in the hospital where anyone stands a chance of being cured.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!