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Geopolitics

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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