India

UNICEF and IKEA support long-lasting insecticidal nets to prevent malaria in India

UNICEF Image: Ikea, bed net
© UNICEF India/2009/ Ferguson
At home in Assam, India, Seema Paati folds her bed net while her two-month-old son, Vikas, wakes up from his afternoon nap.

By Sohini Roychowdhury

UNICEF has announced that the IKEA Social Initiative, a corporate philanthropic partner, is expanding its support for programmes in India. Here is a profile of one IKEA-supported project.

ASSAM, India, 25 February 2009 — Narrow, dusty roads coil past a slew of mud houses with bamboo fences at Bagrodia Tea Estate in Assam. Known as ‘labour lines’, these dwellings present a stark contrast to the lush and verdant tea gardens all around.
 
In one of the thatched mud huts, two young children are running barefoot in the courtyard while their mother, Savitri Mal, dries a mosquito bed net on the clothesline. She is nearly nine-months pregnant. At 26, this is Savitri’s third pregnancy, but in her own words: “It is a whole new experience. There are plenty of mosquitoes in Tengakhata, and the threat of malaria is potent. But with this new bed net, I can sleep peacefully with my children without the fear of contracting malaria.”

Longer-lasting nets

The new long-lasting insecticidal nets are treated with an insecticide that has mosquito-repelling properties. The bed nets are now being used in many homes across five districts in Assam. 

Since May 2008, UNICEF has been working with the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), the Directorate of Health Services and the Government of Assam on a bundling initiative to combat malaria. Dubbed ‘Palna’ (which means ‘nurturing’), the programme bundles maternal health services with bed net provision. 

With funding from the IKEA Social Initiative, UNICEF is working to improve maternal and child health in areas endemic to malaria and Japanese encephalitis. 

Extended protection

Before the Palna initiative began, the Municipal Corporation distributed bed nets that had to be sprayed with insecticide every quarter. This was a cumbersome process and resulted in poor or improper usage of bed nets within the community.

“Since Palna began, bed nets have been distributed to almost 10,000 women and children in Assam,” says UNICEF Assam Health Officer Dr. Ajay Trackroo. “Building on the success of the pilot in four districts, NRHM Assam ... extended bed net provision to pregnant mothers who register for their first antenatal care check-up.”

Adds Seema Paati, 25, a resident of Tengakhata: “Fearing for the safety of my two children and my unborn child, I persuaded my husband to purchase a bed net. It turned out to be of poor quality. We woke up every morning with mosquito bites on our faces and necks. After the birth of my third child, Vikas, I was provided a bed net by the village health worker. I’m now relieved that my family and I are finally safe from malaria.”

Securing women's and children's health

An Auxiliary Nurse Midwife at the Tengakhata Primary Health Centre, Beauty Chamuah, notes that malaria or Japanese encephalitis infections during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, premature birth or low birth weight.

“I counsel women and their families to use bed nets to protect themselves,” says Ms. Chamuah. “These new treated bed nets are a major improvement, and I’m confident that people will benefit tremendously.”

UNICEF’s partnership with the IKEA Social Initiative has a played an integral role in leveraging resources for women and children in malaria-endemic areas of Assam. The success of the Palna initiative demonstrates the power of public- and private-sector alliances to make significant strides in public health.

“The staggering fact is that millions live in malaria-endemic areas in India,” says UNICEF Assam’s Chief of Field Office, Jeroo Master. “Infants, young children and pregnant women are dying from this completely preventable disease. The state also has high infant and maternal mortality rates. Together we can eradicate malaria, one child, one woman and one mosquito bed net at a time.”


 

 

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