Dr. Whembolua's Fight Against Malaria
By Rasha Aly
Cold sweats. High fever. Vomiting. Diarrhea.
Muscle pain. These are just some
signs a person is infected with malaria.
Professor Guy-Lucien Whembolua felt a few of these symptoms, as he lay
in bed, his body’s temperature alternating between high fever and cold sweats. For a couple days, he was stuck in underneath
blankets, fighting malaria. Then, about a week later, his nephew struggled with the same fight;
he, too, had malaria. After suffering
from the illness and watching his nephew go through the same agony, Dr.
Whembolua, whose family hails from the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
decided to do something about it. He made malaria the focus of his next
research topic, so he can investigate ways to help the Congolese prevent
malaria from occurring. During this year as a Taft Research
Center Fellow, Whembolua is working on a book which concentrates upon the
effects of malaria control on maternal and child mortality in the DRC – where
malaria has become a dangerous epidemic.
It is no surprise
Whembolua wants to focus his research on malaria, especially since it is a
large issue affecting so many who live in the DRC. Malaria also falls under a lot of his current
research that deals with global health including immigrant health. Presently, Whembolua is an assistant
professor of health policy and management in UC’s Department of Africana
Studies and the director of the Africana Health Research Laboratory.
According to the
World Health Organization, malaria kills about 200 children per day in the DRC
(2017). Malaria, which is a disease of
the blood, is spread through the bites of female mosquitoes. USAID 2013 statistics show
the DRC has the second-highest number of malaria cases globally, which accounts
for 11 percent of the total (2017). As
stated on the WHO Web site, “Since many countries with malaria are already
among the poorer nations, the disease maintains a vicious cycle of disease and
poverty” (2017). Data provided by the
World Bank illustrates a nasty sequence of how poverty leads to disease and
vice versa. The World Bank ranks the DRC among the
poorest countries in the world – 176 out of 187 countries (2017). The DRC has yet to decide to allocate the
needed funds to buy the resources and supplies needed to help prevent malaria.
Despite the fact
that a large part of the population are aware about malaria, few believe that it
could be eradicated. “Individuals can know more about it,” Whembolua said. “Malaria has become a norm, and few think
that it can be eradicated.” The actual
parasite that causes the illness first infects the mosquito, and then the
disease is transmitted from the mosquito to the human. However, people can take action to stop the
illness from spreading. For instance, according
to the World Health Organization, Congolese can wear long-sleeved shirts, long
pants, and hats to stop mosquitoes from biting the skin. Individuals can also use insect repellent to
keep infected mosquitoes away. The use
of bed nets is also an effective way of thwarting mosquitoes away.
women are more susceptible to malaria, because they have lower immunity to
malaria (Gilliam, 2015). However, there
are many pregnant women who do not have the knowledge about how to prevent
malaria, which can also hurt their unborn infants as well. According to Gilliam (2015), the baby could
be underweight or die in utero. Malaria
is also one of the reasons the DRC has high infant mortality (Gilliam,
2015). There are nurses, who travel from
one village to another in the DRC, to deliver medical care just to pregnant
women. A part of this care includes
educating women about malaria. “There
are numerous posters and songs and stickers about malaria, but fighting the
disease is not just about raising awareness – there must also be tools to treat
it and block its transmission with prevention,” Gilliam writes in the article
Another challenge is
that medicine can be difficult to obtain.
“Most preventative medicines are imported from abroad,” Whembolua
said. “Having to bring in the medicine
from other countries makes it difficult for many families to pay for the
cost. The price of the medicine can vary
depending on the medication and how long a person needs the medication” the
assistant professor said. Medical costs
could be up to hundreds of dollars.
Bringing in companies and creating medicines factories that make the
medicine within the DRC would help the country achieve another level of
independence, Whembolua added. However,
building companies within the DRC brings up another challenge. The DRC has
recently been in the center of what some would call “Africa’s world war,” and
there is still much corruption in the country (BBC, 2017). In addition, the rebel forces are still being
supported by neighboring governments of countries such as Uganda and Rwanda,
and there is still violence in some eastern areas of the country (BBC, 2012 and
In Cincinnati, Whembolua is fighting malaria through his research. "The Africana Health
Research Lab was created to serve as a platform where researchers and students
focusing on immigrant health and public health in low-income countries could
perform research,” he said. The
projects, conducted through the laboratory, align with much of Whembolua’s
research; these research projects explore what socio-demographic, psychosocial,
and environmental factors influence the mental and physical health of Africans
throughout the world. “Immigrant health
is a window to general population health since it involves health education,
behavior, and healthcare access,” Whembolua said. “Moreover, the spread of infectious diseases
is not stopped by country borders.
Immigrant health is an important link between global health and domestic
health. It can also reveal health
inequalities.” Some of the lab project
topics include: “breastfeeding among Africana populations in the United
States,” “breastfeeding in the DRC,” and “HIV prevention in the DRC.”
The assistant professor is also the director
of the Global Health Studies certificate.
He also serves as the program chair of the American Public Health
Association Caucus on Refugee and Immigrant Health.
To find out more about malaria, click here.
BBC News. DR Congo country profile. 13 July
2017. BBC. 30 November 2017.
BBC. Q&A: DR Congo Conflict. 20 November
2012. BBC. 30 November 2017.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traveler's
Health: Malaria. 14 July 2017. 30 November 2017.
Gilliam, Eva. "Fighting Malaria and maternal
mortality, in the Democratic Republic of Congo." 22 April 2015. 30
Harcourt, Nonyeleum, et al. "Factors Associated
with Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Behavior Among African Immigrant
Women in Minnesota." Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health
16.3 (2014): 450-456.
The World Bank. The World Bank in DRC. 2017
19 April. The World Bank. 28 November 2017.
USAID. "Democratic Republic of Congo: Global
Health." 21 April 2017. 2017 28 November.
Whembolua, Guy-Lucien, Donaldson F. Conserve and
Daudet Ilunga Tshiswaka. "Cultural Identity and Health Promotion:
Assessing a Health Education Program Targeting African Immigrants in France."
Journal of Pan African Studies 8.2 (2015).
World Health Organization. Global Health
Observatory (GHO) data. 2017. 2017 November 2017.
—. "Malaria." 2017. 28 November 2017.
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