Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Unprecedented bed net campaign under way in DR Congo

UNICEF Image: DR Congo, Bed nets
© UNICEF video
Workers load insecticide-treated bed nets onto barges in Kinshasa, DR Congo. The nets are being transported up the Congo River for distribution to remote regions of the country.

By Eva Gilliam

KISANGANI, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1 October 2009 – Mikala Mobanda’s four-year-old son has been suffering from fever and lack of appetite for several days. He is lethargic and complains of pain. In this area of DR Congo’s Province Orientale – where malaria is endemic and nearly every child will contract it – there is little doubt of the diagnosis.

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The child is tested and treated with anti-malarial drugs. He should be better in about a week. Unfortunately, the chances are high that he will return to the health centre within a month’s time.

Health experts estimate that each child under five years of age in DR Congo has 6 to 10 attacks of malaria per year. This is equivalent to as many as 100 million episodes, or even more, annually. Approximately 90,000 Congolese children under five die from the disease every year, and many others are orphaned when malaria weakens and kills their parents.

Prevention is a challenge

In communities such as Orientale, local hospitals and health centres must keep up with a constant stream of malaria cases.

Leon Faliala, a nurse at the Umoja Health Centre on the outskirts of Orientale’s capital, Kisangani, treats many patients each day. He says that prevention efforts here are necessary but difficult to implement.

UNICEF Image: DR Congo, Mosquito nets
© UNICEF DR Congo/2009
Barges loaded with nets prepare to leave Kinshasa for Kisangani, as part of a massive campaign to distribute the anti-malarial nets throughout DR Congo.

“We try to encourage people to use mosquito nets and clear stagnant water from their homes, but it is hard,” said Mr. Faliala. “Nets cost money, and in the rainy season, who can control the water?”

‘A huge undertaking’

With the rainy season just days away, UNICEF, along with partners including UNITAID and the World Food Programme, is mobilizing the distribution of some 5.5 million mosquito bed nets in DR Congo. Each has been treated with insecticide and can help reduce the risk of contracting malaria for those who sleep under them at night.

The operation hopes to reach each household with three nets.

“This is an emotional moment for us,” said UNICEF Representative in DR Congo Pierrette Vu Thi. “It is a huge undertaking, with serious logistical challenges, and now it is happening.”

Logistical challenge

On 18 September, eight massive barges left Kinshasa for Orientale and Maniema Provinces, carrying about 2.2 million bed nets. But distribution poses a serious logistical challenge. Province Orientale alone is the size of Spain and has few roads.

“The weather is a big factor,” said Pierre Singa, a Congolese sailor who is helping to push the barges upriver. “There can be breakdowns, and even capsizing or sinking.”

UNICEF and local partners are preparing to work at the household level to ensure proper distribution and use of bed nets after they reach Kisangani.

‘The mission is worth it’

While treated bed nets will not totally eradicate malaria, they will greatly reduce the risks to children. Evidence suggests that sleeping under insecticide-treated nets, when consistently and correctly used, can save 6 child lives per year for every 1,000 children sleeping under them.

“We feel that this mobilization and distribution of treated bed nets can make a real difference,” said Ms. Vu Thi. 

“The mission is worth it,” added Mr. Singa. “I feel like I am doing something for my people, helping them fight malaria.”


 

 

Video

18 September 2009:
UNICEF’s Eva Gilliam reports on a campaign to distribute millions of bed nets throughout DR Congo.
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