Malaria battle is won a family at a time

April 22, 2010

The Teeming City of Kinshasha.

The first thing that struck me about Kinshasha, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is the crush of people. On the way from the airport, you pass markets teeming with people. People line the roads waiting for transport vans, walking and selling their wares.

As war progressed across the north and east, people came to the city for safety and stayed. Today it’s a mass of people and clogged streets with vehicles jockeying for inches of space in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
While construction projects are underway in nearly every section of the city, run by Chinese engineers, people are making do. Nearly everything is recycled for another purpose—bricks, wood, auto parts, even plastic jugs. Many of the city’s streets have been neglected for years and are barely passable in four-wheel drive vehicles. Our driver drove into an unmarked section of concrete that had been removed from the street and our vehicle dropped to its front axle.

Sewers run with foul drainage, and some hold standing water. Trash is not collected and lies everywhere. A heavy rain flooded local neighborhoods and roads. As we sat in a traffic jam, I watched a woman clean her home and shop only feet from the street where we were immobilized. She removed soaked cardboard that had lined the walls of her living area. She carried out a small water-logged table, and laid out bedding, clothing and food boxes.

Beyond the daily struggle to survive under these conditions, I thought how challenging it would be to take on health care in these neighborhoods. People live literally on top of each other with inadequate sanitation and substandard housing. Where would a community improvement effort begin? How would you distribute bed nets to these teeming masses in these terribly congested neighborhoods with no basic services?

That is the challenge of scale and it’s an enormous challenge. It highlights that we must think about engaging at every level of relationship from global economic policy to national governance to local community organization to educating and training individuals. No single entry point is sufficient, and no small scale effort independent of others is adequate.

What we are trying to do in Imagine No Malaria is partner to achieve scale, while also rebuild local infrastructure to support community development. The fight to end deaths caused by malaria is a global fight, but it will be won neighborhood by neighborhood, one family at a time.

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