|© UNICEF/2008/ Vidyarthi|
|A woman and her young child wait for a consultation at one of the 24 health centres funded by the Government of the Republic of Congo to provide free malaria treatment to children and pregnant women.|
BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo, 28 July 2008 – At 8 o'clock in the evening, Monique ran through the streets requesting assistance from her neighbours. Her three-year-old daughter Lana was convulsing and her breathing was laboured. Later, at the health centre, the doctor on duty diagnosed the child with cerebral malaria and prescribed life-saving drugs for Lana.
Unfortunately, none of those drugs was available at the centre – and a UNICEF-supported policy of free treatment for children from poor families was not yet in place.
Lena's father Maurice ran to the pharmacy, but the bill amounted to $42 and he only had about $7 remaining from his wife’s daily earnings. Desperate, he sought help from family and friends. Finally, he managed to scrape together $15. When Maurice ran back to the hospital at 2 a.m., he found Monique in tears on the floor. Their beloved daughter Lena had died half an hour before he arrived.
“If only malaria treatment had been available in the health centre, my daughter would still be alive,” said Monique.
Free treatment to save lives
In the Republic of Congo, 21,000 children die from malaria every year. It is the main cause of death among children under five. To improve this situation, the Government of the Republic of Congo is now funding a new policy authorizing free malaria treatment for children under the age of 15 and women who are pregnant.
“This policy of free treatment for vulnerable groups will be critical to ensure the survival of children. More than 30 per cent of under-five deaths are caused by malaria,” said the Minister of Health and Social Services Emilienne Raoul.
The policy has been implemented in 24 health centres, with plans to expand to all 244 centres in the country by the end of the year. Children and women will receive free diagnostic tests as well as free artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), an effective treatment against malaria.
‘Mother and Child Week’
To promote awareness about the policy, a ‘Mother and Child Week’ will be held across the country at the beginning of August, providing children with vaccines and mosquito nets. Malaria treatment for pregnant women will be available as well.
Last year, 545,000 children here received free mosquito nets produced by UNICEF and financed by the Government of Japan and the United Nations Foundation. Pregnant women also received free intermittent preventive treatment of malaria.
“Together, sleeping under insecticide-treated mosquito nets, preventive treatment of pregnant women and access to free ACT treatment has the potential to save the lives of 14,000 Congolese children under five every year,” said UNICEF Representative in Congo-Brazzaville Dr. Koenraad Vanormelingen.
Through combined strategies such as these, UNICEF and its partners hope to prevent more children like Lena from dying of malaria due to a lack of proper and timely health care.