By Shanta Bloemen
NHAMADZI, Mozambique, 28 September 2011 – Under the shade of a tree in deep rural Mozambique, nurse Sonia Tomocene is speaking to a small gathering about malaria prevention. Before her, pregnant women and young children sit on simple reed mats and listen to her advice attentively.
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Jonah Fisher reports on UNICEF’s universal distribution of nets in Mozambique, an initiative that is helping in the reduction of malaria cases, the biggest killer of children in Africa. Watch in RealPlayer|
Equipped with an illustrated teaching manual, she explains to the rapt audience how to properly use a mosquito bednet. An enthusiastic young mother holding her child volunteers to show how the edges need to be tucked under the mat when sleeping in order to reduce the threat of malaria.
Learning to protect themselves
Malaria is the biggest killer of children in Africa, and accounts for an estimated 600,000 deaths each year across the continent. Particularly dangerous for pregnant women and young children with vulnerable immune systems, in Mozambique, it is the leading killer of children, with 3,500 dying every day.
The fight against malaria is changing, however, as families learn to sleep under mosquito nets. “People realize that it works,” said Ms. Tomocene. “By doing more to protect themselves against mosquitoes, they can reduce the chances of becoming sick.”
|© UNICEF video|
|In Mozambique, malaria is the third largest killer of children under five with 3,500 children dying every day.|
Graduating as a nurse just five months ago, she now works in a small but busy clinic in this rural outpost, examining more than 30 patients a day.
Regina Charles, 20, who is eight months pregnant with her second child, has arrived for her last antenatal check-up. “My two-year-old son Albano has been sick with malaria a couple of times,” she said. “But since we’ve been sleeping under a net, he has not had a problem.”
Large scale effort
In addition to reaching pregnant women and children under the age of five, blanket distribution of nets to local households is having a major impact.
Last year, malaria cases dropped by more than a fifth in Gorgongora District after over 70,000 nets were distributed at no cost. “It’s a very strong indicator that every child needs a net to save his life,” said UNICEF Chief of Communication in Mozambique, Arild Drivdal.
|© UNICEF video|
|Getting families to sleep under mosquito nets – and providing those nets for free – is transforming the fight against malaria in Mozambique.|
The universal distribution of mosquito nets is now a national policy being rolled out across the country. The benefits far outweigh the risks.
“There is always a danger that some nets will be used for fishing or other purposes,” warned Gorgongora District Preventative Health Officer, Amir Abibo Chear, who was responsible for distribution plans in the district. “The proof that the majority of nets are being used properly is that we have less sick people coming to the clinic and in need of treatment.”
Making big strides
Bednets are only part of the solution, however, stressed, Lino Toroge, a small-scale cotton farmer, who spends his spare time as a community health volunteer. Fighting the spread of malaria at its source is essential, and Mr. Toroge works tirelessly to help curb the mosquito population, by teaching people how to keep their villages free of waste and stagnant water.
With big strides made across Africa to prevent disease outbreaks, higher goals are being set now – controlling malaria is not enough, total eradication has to be achieved. This would be a great victory for Africa’s children.