Malawi

On Africa Malaria Day 2006, prevention and treatment go hand in hand

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© UNICEF video
Africa Malaria Day, 25 April, is observed each year to raise awareness about Africa’s biggest killer of children. In photo above, women receive insecticide-treated bednets to protect their families.
By Gabriel Kamlomo

LILONGWE , Malawi, 24 April 2006 – Barely one year into her life, Chisomo Mavuwa has already been struck by malaria three times. But something different happened on her last visit to the local clinic. This time, besides getting treatment for Chisomo’s illness, her mother Christina was given a free insecticide-treated net designed to protect the child directly from the mosquitoes that transmit the disease.

Every day in Malawi, over 110 people die of malaria –  nearly half of them under the age of 18. Throughout Africa, 3,000 children die each day from this preventable disease. Now UNICEF is working with a local non-governmental organization here to bring free life-saving bednets to families and help prevent their children from joining the grim statistics.

“I am really thankful for this bednet. Maybe now things will change,” says Christina, who has five other children at home. “At times it’s like an epidemic. One child gets cured, another is attacked by malaria. It’s sad.”

Accelerated treatment effort

Malaria is among the most frequent reasons for outpatient visits to hospitals, hospitalization and death in Malawi and many other African nations. In fact, six years after the first Africa Malaria Day was observed on 25 April 2000, the disease is still Africa’s biggest killer of children. Ninety per cent of all malaria cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

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© UNICEF/ HQ00-0159/Pirozzi
A family in the town of Chokwe, in Mozambique, sits on a bed with a mosquito net behind them.
Even when the illness is not fatal, it has serious socio-economic implications. Frequent bouts with malaria mean that families have little time to tend the food needed to raise strong, healthy children.

For Africa Malaria Day this year, UNICEF and other partners in Roll Back Malaria – a global partnership that kicked off in 1998 – are calling for an accelerated effort to make combination drug treatments for malaria widely available for victims of the disease in more than 30 nations on the continent. At the same time, UNICEF continues its focus on malaria prevention, primarily through the distribution of mosquito nets.

A crucial distribution

In Malawi, UNICEF is supporting the government’s fight against malaria by handing out the treated nets at mother-and-child clinics. Since 2002, a total of 3.8 million nets have been distributed in this malaria-prone country.

Still, the percentage of families protected by bednets remains low. It costs between $5 and $15 to produce, handle and distribute each net – but even the government-subsidised price of 40 cents per bednet for a mother with a child under five (and 80 cents for all others) is still far too high for most residents.

With the income of a family of six averaging around $1 a day in Malawi, UNICEF’s efforts to provide free insecticide-treated nets are crucial.

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© UNICEF/HQ04-0829/Delvigne-Jean
Women and their children queue up to register during Togo’s nationwide integrated immunization campaign, which includes distribution of mosquito bednets to help prevent malaria.
Sleeping safely

UNICEF’s involvement in malaria prevention extends beyond the procurement and distribution of bednets. The Roll Back Malaria partnership has used stars of the African music world and international public health experts to heighten the public profile of malaria control initiatives.

Other key actions, like draining marshy lands and clearing surrounding tall grass around villages, are also being promoted with the help of medical professionals, religious organizations and other local networks.

“Malaria accounts for about twice the number of deaths amongst young children compared to the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” says local Clinical Officer Isaac Msambira. “This is really unfortunate, especially when one of the answers to the problem is a simple bednet.”

Although lack of resources remains a major challenge, UNICEF’s efforts to combat  malaria mean that more mothers like Christina will survive to look after their families, while babies like Chisomo sleep peacefully and safely under their bednets.

Tim Ledwith contributed to this story from New York.


 

 

Video

24 April 2006:
UNICEF Deputy Director for the Supply Division, Stephen Jarrett, talks about the significance of Africa Malaria Day and the state of the effort to roll back malaria.

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24 April 2006:
In advance of Africa Malaria Day, Grammy-winning singer Youssou N’Dour speaks out about ways to halt the spread of this preventable and treatable disease.
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