“WE have learned from various sources and confirmed with our doctor in charge of public health in Monieka that malaria has recently taken 406 lives, two thirds of them children under five years of age.” So we read in a February letter from the Disciples “Communaute” in Congo which appealed for prayers from the partner churches in the U.S. and Germany.
After deciding this grim news had to be shared, I contacted Dr. Gene Johnson who served as the lone doctor in the Monieka hospital from 1957 to 1964. As to what might have caused a sudden flare up in deaths from this disease, so common in tropical areas with high rainfall, Dr. Johnson responded, “I suppose there has been the development of a new strain
of resistant malaria, though I would guess that most people don’t have access to medication, and die untreated. Resistance to the medications that once worked well has become common. It is particularly hard to treat small children.”
One fifth of the children born in Congo die before age 5. According to the most recent figures, malaria accounts for 21 per cent of those deaths. While adults in Congo regularly experience “the fever” brought on by malaria and consider the illness no more serious than we do a common cold, for children with no resistance it is often fatal. “When a child is born he has no resistance to malaria, and as soon as he is bitten by an infected mosquito will become symptomatic. If lucky enough to survive the first episode there will be a certain amount of resistance.” So wrote Dr. Johnson in response to my inquiry.
We don’t know what might be behind the current rise of malaria deaths in Monieka. What we know is that the tragic consequences of the disease can be countered by vigorous, well funded preventive measures. What we do know is that neighboring Rwanda, whose government spends twice what Congo spends on public health, is among the eleven African countries where child mortality and malaria deaths are in significant decline. We know that the under five mortality rate in Rwanda is less than half the figure for Congo and that more inpatient deaths from malaria were recorded in Congo in 2009 than anywhere else in the world.
And we know Dr. Eric Bosai continues his work as the only doctor at the Monieka Hospital. Dr. Bosai follows in the footsteps of the 1918 founder of the Hospital, pioneer Disciples missionary doctor Dr. Louis F. Jaggard. Since Dr. and Mrs. Jaggard retired in 1944, Monieka has remained an isolated Disciples mission post providing the only health and education service for a large area.
With their four school age children, Dr. Bosai’s wife lives in Mbandaka, a day’s journey from her husband. The monthly government subsidy amounts to less than $50 per month so most of Dr. Bosai’s salary is paid by a grant from the Global Ministries Department of the U.C.C. and Disciples churches in the U.S.. Eric Bosai’s father, Rev. Thomas Bosai, headed the Disciples’ youth ministries before planting churches in the remote area of Opala, the first Disciples mission outpost in Orientale Province. I lunched in Mbandaka with Thomas’ widow and their son and family in July, 2010. Son Eric’s determination to provide medical services for Monieka and lead that deprived population’s struggle against malaria and other diseases is worthy of our prayers and support.