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Insecticide-treated nets take a bite out of malaria epidemic in Zimbabwe

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2006/Elder
Prince Mafunga, seen here with his mother, is healthier, happier and malaria-free after his family received insecticide-treated bed nets from UNICEF.

By James Elder

As UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman joins political leaders, experts and celebrities at a White House summit on fighting malaria in Africa – part of the five-year, $1.2 billion US President’s Malaria Initiative – UNICEF’s James Elder tells the story of one young boy’s battle with the disease, highlighting the importance of donor support.

HARARE, Zimbabwe, 13 December 2006 - Young Prince Mafunga was suffering under the weight of his malaria symptoms. For two days, he had a high fever, his head throbbed relentlessly and his joints burnt.

On the third day, his mother took time off work, borrowed money and travelled three hours by bus to the nearest hospital in northern Zimbabwe, where Prince spent eight days in recovery. He had been here before, having gone through five bouts of malaria in the preceding nine months.

“There is a fear you see in a child’s eyes when they are in that much pain,” says Prince’s mother. “I think it is a mother’s fear being reflected.”

Donor support saves lives

A few months after Prince’s hospitalization, the Mafunga family received three insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) from UNICEF to protect themselves against malaria. Since these bed nets arrived, Prince has been malaria free. The money his family has saved in hospital bills has gone toward two new huts and a goat.

This is a story being repeated all across Zimbabwe as donors support UNICEF in staging an all-out assault on child mortality and malaria.

In Zimbabwe, where 17 districts are considered high-transmission areas for malaria, the number of families with children under five and pregnant women possessing ITNs has risen sharply – from 7 per cent to more than 50 per cent – in just two years. It is likely to exceed the previously projected target of 60 per cent by end of this year.

© UNICEF/HQ06-0575/Noorani
A woman sits with her child under a mosquito net.

Amid an array of economic and social hardships here, it is a remarkable achievement and a reminder that donor funds play a critical, lifesaving role in Zimbabwe.

One key donor, the Japanese Government, earlier this year donated $2.6 million to UNICEF to prevent malaria and fight childhood illnesses. The money will ensure that children are eligible for a wide range of immunizations and that almost a quarter of a million Zimbabwean children like Prince receive long-lasting ITNs.

Population shifts spread malaria

Since 2000, there have been significant population shifts in Zimbabwe due to resettlement and economic emigration. This has resulted in people relocating to malaria-endemic areas from non-endemic regions.

Because these people have no built-in immunity to malaria, epidemics are occurring with increasing frequency, as are fatalities, especially amongst children and pregnant women. The Japanese donation seeks to address this situation and build on Zimbabwe’s progress in the distribution of ITNs.

“Zimbabwe’s health system is under real stress,” says UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Festo Kavishe. “So we must all find ways to ensure malaria and vaccine-preventable diseases do not take the lives of ever more Zimbabwean children. These funds from Japan are an enormous boost to this effort.”



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