Central African Republic

Delivering mosquito nets to protect displaced children from malaria in the Central African Republic

 

By Suzanne Beukes

With the rains will come the mosquitoes – and the malaria. UNICEF and partners are rushing mosquito nets to families displaced around Bangui, Central African Republic, to prevent the deadly disease.

BANGUI, Central African Republic, 3 March 2014 – Clarisse Pompe stands in a queue to collect her mosquito net at the SOS children’s village in Bangui, Central African Republic. Ms. Pompe, who is 23, is one of the thousands of displaced people who have taken refuge here because of ongoing intercommunal violence.

In the past month, the violence has escalated. “One morning, we were here at home, and we just heard gunfire and bullets coming from everywhere,” she says. “[S]ome came into our compound, so we couldn’t stay at home anymore. And so we ran to the SOS village to hide ourselves.”

Every night, Ms. Pompe brings her 1-year-old baby Christiano to the site so they can sleep in one of the classrooms. “During the day, we go home just to wash and to find food. But, at night, it is not safe to sleep there,” she says.

The facilities are Spartan, the classrooms overcrowded. And the mosquitoes have been active. “[T]he mosquitoes are just biting the children,” she says. “So, having a mosquito net is really helpful.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
Only around a third of children had mosquito nets before the current crisis began in the Central African Republic, where malaria is one of the leading causes of child death.

Malaria

Malaria is one of the leading causes of child deaths in the Central African Republic.

Malaria-infected mosquitoes bite at night. When children sleep regularly under a mosquito net in areas in which the disease is endemic, child deaths can be reduced by some 20 per cent. Before crisis erupted in the Central African Republic in March 2013, only about a third of children slept under the mosquito nets that can protect them from the deadly disease.

Treatment, too, has had its challenges. Before the crisis began, there were a limited number of health centres and clinics. Since the crisis began, several of these centres have been looted and damaged. Many staff members have been forced to flee and have not since returned to their posts.

Mosquito nets

More than 700,000 people are displaced across the Central African Republic. There are some 280,000 persons displaced in Bangui. UNICEF malaria consultant Laurent Phung describes the situation: “People are living in difficult conditions, with families sleeping literally side by side in displacement sites,” he says.

Reaching these families with mosquito nets is a high priority. The Ministry of Health, together with UNICEF and the Central African Red Cross, has embarked on a distribution campaign to reach displaced families in Bangui. “We identified 49 displaced camps in Bangui,” says Jean Charles Tchokote from the Ministry of Health. “Our main objective is to cover 80 per cent of the families that are found in these displaced camps.”

At each distribution site, Red Cross facilitators provide an education session on why it is important to sleep under a net, and how to use it correctly. Then, they demonstrate how to use the nets correctly, using volunteers from the crowd. It’s important training, says Dr. Ferdinand Gbagba from the Red Cross, because the disease affects so many children and pregnant women and can be fatal.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
The Ministry of Health, together with UNICEF and the Central African Red Cross, has embarked on a distribution campaign to reach displaced families in Bangui with mosquito nets. Recipients learn why the nets are important and how to use them.

Risk grows, challenges increase

The rainy season is approaching. The risk of malaria is highest during this period. “The season starts in April, and we wanted to complete the distribution before then in order to give the opportunity for people to protect themselves against malaria,” says Mr. Phung.

But reaching families in need has proven challenging. A distribution may have to be postponed because of unrest. Or the team may need to take special measures to hand out the nets. At the Ama secondary school in Boy Rabe, one of the areas in Bangui heavily affected by ongoing violence, the nets were handed out inside classrooms so as not to attract too much attention.

Because outbreaks of violence in Bangui are erratic, the number of internally displaced people at the different sites has fluctuated, which poses a challenge for getting nets to people in need. Dr. Gbagba says that the distribution plans are adapted constantly to meet increases and decreases in population.

Mosquito nets will surely save lives, particularly in an insecure environment in which prevention is critical, and treatment is often difficult to access.

Learn more about the situation in the Central African Republic, and UNICEF’s response

Follow @UNICEF_CAR on Twitter


 

 

UNICEF Photography: Children in danger

New enhanced search