EROBRE, Ethiopia, 1 September 2004 – Baru Kura is a teacher…but he does not work in a classroom. He knows a lot about health…but he’s not a doctor. Baru is a volunteer for UNICEF. And his work is in the spotlight during Malaria Week in Ethiopia.
Baru serves as an important health link for the people in his village of Erobre, in the southern region of Ethiopia.
“I teach them about the transmission of malaria from mosquitoes biting people,” said Baru, who translates the messages conveyed to him by health personnel into the local language of his village. “It’s for the benefit of the children. Although there is no payment for my services, I’m happy to do it as a service to my community. I get respect from the community.”
More than four million cases of malaria are reported annually in Ethiopia. It is estimated that only 20 per cent of children under five that contract malaria are treated at health facilities.
UNICEF actively assists the Ethiopian Government in promoting the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, training health workers in malaria prevention and control, and providing essential drugs, medical supplies and equipment.
Baru’s wife, Dieramu, is expecting her fifth child in a few weeks. Their whole family sleeps under the bed net in the tuckle, or hut, that is their home. Despite the expense, Dieramu feels that the net is a wise investment to protect herself, her unborn child and the rest of the family from the deadly disease.
“Eighteen birr (about $2) is a lot for us. But we believe our health is a priority and worth that 18 birr,” Dieramu said.
UNICEF is a member of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership, which also includes the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, the private sector and a number of NGOs. The goal of the RBM Partnership is to reduce malaria through effective treatment and prevent new infections via use of preventative measures such as insecticide treated bed nets and indoor spraying to kill the mosquitoes which transmit the disease.
Community health volunteers like Baru are essential in the fight against malaria, agrees Meskele Lera, who is the regional Head of the Disease Prevention and Control Department in southern Ethiopia.
“The health system should be built on community ownership of health programmes,” Mr. Lera said. “To do this, we have created community health promoters who are themselves from the community. They have become role models for health practices, from malaria to sanitation, family planning and immunization. They practice what they preach in their own households.” He explained that community members look to the health promoters for an example, thereby improving their own health standards.