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Malaria, poverty kill children in Angola

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Domingos Antonic lies dying of malaria at the provincial hospital in Malanje.
Oct. 5, 2006

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

MALANJE, Angola (UMNS) — At 3:50 p.m. on Sept. 25, 8-month-old Domingos Antonic died.

Malaria and poverty killed him.

A $10 mosquito net might have saved his life. A clean neighborhood sprayed with pesticide surely would have.

Forty-six percent of all the deaths in Malanje are related to malaria. Malaria is the No. 1 cause of death for children under 5 in this southwest African country.

A delegation from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Communications visited two cities in Angola — Malanje and Luanda -- Sept. 24-Oct. 1. The group toured hospitals, clinics, orphanages, schools and churches to explore ways to prevent malaria and other communicable diseases by providing greater access to health care.

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Dr. Laurinda Vidal Quipungo (left) gives urgent orders in an effort to save the life of 8-month-old Domingos Antonic.
Dr. Laurinda Vidal Quipungo is a pediatric doctor who works part-time at the Malanje Provincial Hospital, and she is the wife of Bishop Jose Quipungo of the United Methodist Church's East Angola Annual (regional) Conference. She led the delegation on a tour of the hospital until she stopped to become part of a team fighting to save Domingos' life.

The team lost the battle because it lacked the medical supplies and the time needed to save him.

"The image of what you saw — a dying child — is very frequent here. It is our reality," she said. "Sometimes we will have two or three children die on us in the same day."

Domingos weighed only 7 kilograms when he came into the hospital. He had been sick for several days before the family brought him in for treatment.

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Feliciana Domingos and her 1-year-old daughter Sarafine Lorenšo take shelter beneath a mosquito net at their home.
He was suffering from acute anemia and couldn't breathe. "His veins were so small it was hard to give him the transfusion he desperately needed," Quipungo said. "A pediatric surgeon would have been able to cut deeper and find a vein. It might have saved his life."

Asked what else would have saved his life, she answered softly, "Oxygen." The hospital does not even have an oxygen tank.

The heartbreak is even harder to deal with knowing that malaria is a disease that can be prevented and cured, she said.

War-torn country

Angola has only been at peace for the past four years. Much of the country's fertile farm land is riddled with landmines. Luanda, the capital city, has a population of 5 million in a city built for 800,000. Most of the population lives in mud shacks built from whatever scraps the inhabitants could find and mash together for walls and ceilings.

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Dr. Pedro Antonio examines a stagnant pond for signs of mosquito infestation as part of his efforts to control malaria.
In Luanda, roads are clogged with traffic from morning to night, slowed by giant potholes. In places, the roads seem to be made of nothing more than layers of garbage compacted into hard clumps and covered with mud.

In both cities, neighborhoods are cesspools of garbage and stagnant water. Human waste streams down the hillside into the water supply. Lumbering yellow trucks come daily to fill their tanks with contaminated water, which is then distributed throughout the cities. Children play in sewage holes and splash through mosquito-larva-covered ditches.

Dr. Pedro Francisco Chagas, administrator of the Malanje Provincial Hospital, took the delegation on a tour of the Maxinde neighborhood. Pointing to a pool of stagnant water covered by a thin veil of green slime, he said, "This is a holiday resort for mosquitoes. They love it here."

Close by the open ditch, women baked bread and muffins to sell at the market. A concrete structure has been built around an underground water supply. The structure was built to protect the fresh water, Chagas explained.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

A barefoot girl plays alongside an open sewer in the Maxinde neighborhood near Malanje, site of a cholera outbreak last year.
A huge pool of muddy, smelly water next to the well is used by most of the neighborhood. The city has ordered the neighbors to cover the hole, but a local resident said a bulldozer is needed to help. "It is too much work to do by hand," the man told Chagas.

"That is a common problem," Chagas said. "The community is asked to do something, but they don't have the means to do it."

People carry buckets of water from the well. "There is supposed to be water just for washing, but the buckets often get mixed up with the ones for drinking water," he said.

This same neighborhood had an outbreak of cholera during the last rainy season. More than 4,000 cases were reported in Malanje, and 246 people died. Chagas fears the same thing will happen this year because nothing has been done to clean the neighborhoods. The rainy season has just begun.

About 3,300 people live in Maxinde, and it is a typical neighborhood, he explained.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

A water tanker truck stops to fill up at a community well in the Maxinde neighborhood.
In a small hut, Feliciana Domingos carried 1-year-old Sarafine in her arms. She showed the delegation the mosquito nets she uses to cover herself, her husband, two children and a brother-in-law. A breeze from the open window gently blew the netting.

Chagas said the hospital received 300,000 mosquito nets last year. "We need 1.2 million to cover everyone," he said.

Even with more mosquito nets, the problem of the mosquitoes would still exist, Quipungo said. "We don't have enough medicine to treat everyone with malaria."

Shaking her head, she said, "The needs are so many."

*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Audio

Dr. Laurinda Vidal Quipungo: "Sometimes two or three die in a day."

The Rev. Domingos Kafuanda: "Child died on Monday."

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Resources

Angola mission profile

United Methodists in the fight against malaria

General Board of Global Ministries

Africa Malaria Initiative