Eight faith-based organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo have set up a nationwide pilot project to support the fight against malaria. It will reach out to all Congolese, regardless of their religious beliefs.
The initiative, dubbed the Coalition of Religious Organisations for Health (CORESA, after its French acronym), will receive some money from the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, as well as raise money independently for malaria prevention.
According to Inter Press Service (IPS) the umbrella organisation CORESA will see Roman Catholics, Methodists, and Anglicans; Seventh-day Adventists, Apostolics and members of the DR Congo's Kimbanguiste Church, as well as the country's Muslims involved in raising US$75 million dollars from around the world to purchase and distribute 2.5 million mosquito-nets.
Studies have shown that if people in malaria-affected communities sleep under insecticide-treated nets, the incidence of the disease can be dramatically reduced.
Approximately 554,000 children under the age of five – almost one out of five children in that age group – die each year in DR Congo. Most of these deaths are due to malaria, acute respiratory infections (in particular, pneumonia), diarrhoeal diseases, measles, HIV/AIDS, anaemia and malnutrition.
"That is the reason why we are considering free distribution of at least three nets per family to all families in the DRC as our first priority," said Dr Assumani N'simbo, a Muslim cleric and vice president of CORESA.
"Over 70 percent of people in Africa are religious. It is therefore easier for them to access services provided at their religion level than at the government level," said Shannon Trilli, executive director for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Malaria.
Churches and mosques in the U.S. and Asia have agreed to raise money to purchase nets, while their counterparts in the DRC have been given the responsibility of raising awareness communities, educating them on the use of the nets, and distributing them.
If the project succeeds, then it will be duplicated in several other African countries, according to CORESA officials. The DRC's health minister, Dr Augustine Ilunga,confirmed that the malaria burden in the Congo is very high.
"Due to the high rate of malaria incidence in our country, we welcome any group willing to help us reduce the burden. Intervention from religious groups is all the more welcome because apart from keeping the government accountable, they will be able to reach out to more masses through their religious organisations," said the minister.
DRC, despite being one of the countries supported by the Global Fund, does not yet provide free malaria treatment for children below the age of five as is the case in other African countries enrolled in the funding programme.
Free treatment of malaria and distribution of mosquito-nets is limited to the rural areas of DRC, where pregnant women and children attending clinics are eligible.
CORESA president, Catholic Father Bertin Subi, said the initiative was conceived to prevent exactly such desperate situations. At its launch ahead of World Malaria Day on Apr. 25, CORESA distributed 30,000 nets donated by the Anglican Church, through an initiative known as Nets for Life.
"Do not sell the nets, and do not use them for fishing," Yvonne Chakachaka, the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador against Malaria told beneficiaries. Such misuse of the treated nets has been reported in countries like Kenya and Malawi.
The Global Fund Initiative for Malaria Eradication has shown good results with its programme of free treatment for the disease, and free nets to protect against re-infection, have almost eradicated malaria in Eritrea, Rwanda, Uganda and on Tanzania's Zanzibar Island. The disease is to the main killer of children under five in endemic countries, including the DRC. Someone dies every 30 seconds of malaria, somewhere in the world.