Congo: Fighting Malaria In The Face Of Ignorance And Intimidation

Despite political highjacking, corruption and lack of information, a campaign to promote insecticide-treated mosquito nets is helping the Democratic Republic of Congo fight its number one child killer: malaria.

Under the net: Zabibu Athumani and her son Abirai Mbaraka Sultani (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)
Under the net: Zabibu Athumani and her son Abirai Mbaraka Sultani (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)
Richard Kayembe Kasongo

EAST KASAI – In the months leading up to last year's election in Congo, fighting malaria was very much on the political agenda.

According to Doctors Without Borders, malaria is the leading cause of death in the the Democratic Republic of Congo, killing some 300,000 children under the age of five every year. Just as last year's political campaign was heating up, the government distributed long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets (LLINS) to all the residents of the East Kasai region.

But now, with the election over, soldiers have been going around asking residents in remote neighborhoods of East Kasai who didn't vote for the outgoing president, to either pay $11 or hand back the nets. "Men in uniform came to ask us for money because we didn't vote for the president," says a resident of the town of Tubondo. As a result, residents fearful of dealing with the soldiers have handed back or buried hundreds of nets.

The local government has asked the population to report intimidations. Authorities have also tried to emphasize the fact that the handouts of LLINS were part of a nationwide fight against malaria and not a political move, despite several politicians using it for political gain.

Neither fishing net nor curtain

The latest reports were also an opportunity to remind the population how to use the nets, which must be set up over beds at night. Too often, the nets are diverted from their original use, serving as curtains, fishing nets, bed sheets, soccer goals… In some cities they are resold for $5.

"Sleeping under a net is suffocating," says a woman who uses it as a curtain. "If you hang it in front of the door or a window it prevents mosquitoes from coming into the house." Restaurants are doing the same. Like many women, Agnes Mbuyi, who owns a restaurant believes that "using the mosquito nets as curtains is enough to ward off flies and other disease-carrying insects."

Despite some setbacks, the operation has started to show some results. Research by the Hang Up campaign shows that in more than 85% of families, the nets were correctly used. According to Pierre Omengenge, who coordinates anti-malaria efforts in Muena Ditu, in central Congo, initial reports confirm the positive effects of using insecticide-treated nets. At one hospital in Tshiamala, there have only been about 100 blood transfusions linked to malaria over a six-month period compared to more than 300 the year before.

Read the original article in French.

Photo- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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