World Malaria Day draws attention to a disease that kills a million people, mostly children, every year around the globe. While great strides have been made in some places, mainly through the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and other preventive measures, children in the Democratic Republic of Congo remain highly vulnerable.
According to the World Health Organization, less than 1% of DRC children under five years of age sleep under protective nets. This results in most of them suffering six to ten malaria-related fever incidents per year. The disease also accounts for 45% of childhood mortality, which overall runs to 20%. In short, malaria kills nearly one in ten children in the Congo every year.
As Valerie Grey learns in Heart of Diamonds, continuous armed conflict in the country is responsible for many of these deaths. Medical supplies can’t be distributed when roads, railroads, and airstrips have been destroyed. Treatment can’t be delivered by medical personnel who have been chased from their clinics and hospitals. People driven from their homes, plagued by malnutrition, inadequate shelter, and lack of sanitary facilities are weak and less capable of warding off disease. War creates a breeding ground for death by malaria just as surely as swamps full of stagnant water breed anopheles mosquitoes.
Although the intensity of conflict has decreased since the truce of 2003 and democratic elections of 2006, millions of displaced persons still struggle to survive and hot spots remain in the eastern and western provinces. Collapsed infrastructure has severely weakened the health system in the DRC, and the strengthening process is a slow one.
The DRC, unfortunately, has little to celebrate this World Malaria Day.