24 April 2013

Congo-Kinshasa: Malaria Remains Endemic in Democratic Republic of Congo

Photo: UN Foundation
A child lies under a mosquito net in Somalia.

April 25 is World Malaria Day, a day designed to highlight a disease that continues to kill almost 700,000 people around the world every year. Most of the deaths occur in young children under five years old. RFI visits the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the disease remains endemic.

Deborah Mangili lies on a bed in the paedriatic ward of N'Gaba hospital in Kinshasa, watching over her baby daughter Kunda. It's hot, and Kunda has a fever.

Deborah brought her to the hospital overnight. Kunda had been ill for a week, and is now very sick. She has been diagnosed with severe malaria and anaemia, for which she is being given a blood transfusion. The nurse hopes she will pull through.

Deborah lives close to the hospital, but didn't come earlier because she has no money. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, medicine for malaria is free, thanks to the support of the Global Fund, a non-profit organisation.

However, health care is not free. Seventy per cent of people in the DRC live on less than a dollar a day, and Deborah is one of them. She shares a room with five other people in N'Gaba, a poor suburb of Kinshasa where rubbish piles up in the streets, and water stagnates in filthy pools. A visit to the doctor can cost at least five dollars; a stay in hospital much more. Deborah says she has no money to pay for her daughter's care.

Malaria is endemic in the DRC, and mosquitoes flourish in areas like N'Gaba. Those that transmit malaria bite at night, which is why the Global Fund is financing the mass distribution of bednets impregnated with insecticide. So far, 13 million such nets have been distributed in the country.

Deborah has a bednet at home, and she and her baby sleep under it at night. But that didn't prevent her from catching the disease during her pregnancy, and her baby from falling ill too. Why? Probably because, like many people in the DRC, she sits up late at night with her baby watching television. Both get bitten regularly, and both caught malaria.

But Deborah says she is going to be careful from now on to put little Kunda under the bednet earlier in the evening. If she does, she might just save her daughter's life.

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