Keeping Malaria at bay in Rwanda
By Anjan Sundaram
Nyamata, Rwanda, 16 October 2011 – Across Rwanda, mothers and children are benefiting from faster malaria diagnosis, the widespread distribution of nets, and the diligence of hospital and health centre staff determined to keep malaria in check.
Why the sudden focus on malaria in a country that has drastically reduced both illness and deaths rates from malaria? And removed malaria as the number one killer of children under the age of five?
The reason according to Celestin Nzarerwanimana, a community health supervisor at Nyamata Hospital in southern Rwanda, is resurgence in malaria cases which is why everyone is on alert again, ensuring that suspect cases are immediately diagnosed and children treated.
“In May 2010, we had 32 malaria-related deaths of children under the age of five in our district,” explains Nzarerwanimana. “This year in May we had only 17 deaths; our efforts are working, but we still need to remain vigilant.”
The Rwandan Government is very serious about this vigilance and has procured new equipment to ensure rapid diagnosis and treatment of the diseases. In addition, in June of this year, community health workers visited more than fifty thousand Rwandan homes, sometimes early in the morning, to check if sleeping families were using their bed nets properly. These workers also continue to provide important advice to families about hygiene, avoiding stagnant water, nutrition and family planning.
“And now that these community health workers are equipped with a rapid prick-test, diagnosis and treatment of malaria can be done almost instantaneously, without the sick needing to leave their homes,” explains Nzarerwanimana.
“Every month our team is advancing, we get better training and knowledge on home based care so that we can treat simple illnesses and cut down on the time that pregnant women and small children who are sick have to travel to get care,” he adds.
In Bugesera district, of which Nyamata is the capital, more than 100,000 nets have been distributed to homes. And each month, a thousand children are tested for malaria, with more than 90% of those found with the parasite, treated within 24 hours.
Egidie Umubyeyi, a 26-year-old mother who just gave birth to her third child says that the district malaria program has changed her life.
‘We used to have many malaria cases in our house, and in the neighbourhood,’ she explains. ‘That has changed. Now the health workers come once a month to check if I am using the nets properly.’
She says the extra care was invaluable when she was pregnant.
‘I was taught how malaria could be particularly bad for my child, and how it could lead to a premature birth,’ she said. ‘Thanks to this malaria programme, we are all healthy in my home.’
‘Malaria is not something that is going to go away overnight,” explains Dr. Friday Nwaigwe, Chief of Health and Nutrition at UNICEF Rwanda. “But through proper vigilance, rapid diagnosis and bed nets, we can at least keep it at bay. UNICEF is committed to supporting Rwanda’s Government to improve child survival, which is why we provide both technical and financial assistance to strengthen technical guidelines, build the capacity of health personnel and support the organisation of outreach interventions, like Mother and Child Health Weeks, to help children survive and thrive,”