UNICEF works to protect the most vulnerable from malaria in Indonesia
By Suzanna Dayne
YAMLI VILLAGE, Indonesia, 12 September 2008 – For centuries, the people of the South Halmahera islands have been dealing with a major health threat that those living in other parts of Indonesia have since forgotten. The threat is malaria, a disease that attacks the most vulnerable. Now, the government, UNICEF and other partners are taking concerted action to end this threat.
Yamli village, which is only accessible by boat, is in one of the areas worst-affected by malaria. Surrounded by swamps, it is an ideal breeding ground for the deadly anopheles mosquito, which carries the disease.
Local resident Ester Rahmat lost one of her twin daughters last year, when the girl was just 21 months old. “She got a fever and I brought her to the clinic. They said it was malaria,” recalled Ms. Rahmat. “They gave her something but it was too late, and she died the next morning.”
Ms. Rahmat also contracted malaria and had to be to be treated at the hospital. Two of her neighbours lost their babies to the disease around the same time.
Bed Nets Are First Line of Defense
”The first step is to control the disease, then eliminate it,” said UNICEF Malaria Officer Bill Hawley. “Studies have shown that if the overall population of mosquitoes is reduced, everyone is protected, even people who are not using bed nets. So we have a direct effect of protection for people who are using bed nets and we also have a community-level effect.”
Bed nets that have been treated with insecticide are one of the first lines of defense in the malaria campaign. This effort is unique in that it works closely with the government’s immunization programmes and maternal and child health initiatives. The bed nets are given to the most vulnerable groups, including pregnant women and mothers with babies.
During the monthly clinic at a village health post, women line up for basic health care and nutrition assistance. It is here that they will receive the bed nets. Mothers with young children are provided nets after the children receive basic immunization. Pregnant women receive nets after they have taken a blood test to see if they are carrying malaria.
“Most women don’t mind taking the test,” said midwife Ernawati Mansur. ”People here know the dangers of this disease and are anxious to get a bed net to protect themselves.”
‘We Can All Sleep Peacefully’
District Regent Muhammad Kasuba, who has suffered from malaria himself, takes a personal interest in the campaign. During a visit to a health post, he told the community that he will do everything he can to ensure that everyone has a bed net.
“I don’t want to see another mother or child die from malaria. I pledge to do all I can to protect the people of South Halmahera,” he said.
Over the years, Indonesia has won many battles against this disease. But to win the war against malaria, the programme needs to be maintained and expanded. The cost of a bed net is about $7. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as the Czech and UK National Committees for UNICEF, provided funding for the bed nets. USAID is supporting the overall programme as part of the global malaria campaign.