A small child sleeps under a bed net in Kindu, Eastern Congo.
By Julia Kayser Frisbie*
February 20, 2014—In East Congo’s Maniema Province, three thousand volunteers are going out in pairs to knock on their neighbor’s doors. By mid-March, they aim to have distributed 700,000 bed nets. While one volunteer hangs a net over the sleeping area in each home, the other speaks with the family.
Their key messages: Mosquitoes bearing malaria parasites transmit the disease through their bites. Pregnant women and children are often the most vulnerable due to compromised or developing immune systems. Sleeping under a bed net is one of the best ways to stay safe, but insecticide-treated nets must be used correctly and consistently every night in order to prevent malaria.
Although it’s the first bed net distribution in this area, the local communities are very engaged. That’s thanks to the extraordinary leadership of the health board of the new East Congo Annual (regional) Conference. The East Congo Health Board is steering the efforts of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) through Imagine No Malaria toward local health priorities. Their very first grant proposal was approved, and now, just a few months later, this large-scale net distribution is underway.
Imagine No Malaria is cooperating with Episcopal Relief and Development’s Nets for Life® to fully implement this project across nine health zones in Maniema. The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s national malaria control program is the government entity steering the partnership network, and it supports their efforts.
From Malaria Prevention to Broader Health Interventions
The nascent East Congo Health Board is starting with malaria prevention, and plans to expand its work to other impactful health initiatives—such as renovating facilities that were destroyed during armed conflict in the region, providing services for pregnant women, and other measures.
Nyamah Dunbar, UMCOR program executive for Imagine No Malaria, was part of an UMCOR delegation that visited East Congo in early February. The renovation of the Lokolé Maternal and Child Health Clinic was just completed in time for the delegation’s visit, and the construction of the Mangobo Health Center was nearly done. Dunbar was impressed with the quality, speed, and agility of the young East Congo Health Board as it takes on each new project.
Prospère Tunda, deputy provincial director in Maniema, chairs the health board. He’s a prominent member of The United Methodist Church and a long-time supporter of the United Methodist hospital and community initiatives in Tunda, East Congo. He’s brilliant at networking and mobilizing resources.
East Congo’s Bishop Gabriel Unda Yemba also sits on the health board. “We must, at any cost, struggle against malaria,” he said in a July 2013 interview with Global Ministries. “It is enemy number one, because it carried away my wife.” Bishop Unda remembers her being healthy, but once malaria attacked, “one or two days later, she was dead.” That was six years ago.
When faith leaders like Bishop Unda prioritize malaria, it has a huge impact. In a region still classified as a war zone, directives from the government are often met with skepticism. But the church is a bulwark of stability. People trust their pastors and their bishops. We pray that they will also trust the churchgoing neighbors who knock on their doors, arms laden with bed nets.
You can support Imagine No Malaria through a gift to Advance #3021190.
*Julia Kayser Frisbie is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.