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In Angola, community health workers help in the fight against malaria

© UNICEF Angola/2011
Graciete (right), six, and Antonica, four, under the watchful eye of their older sister. Both young girls were treated for malaria at Cacuaco Health Centre in Cacuaco Municipality, Luanda Province, Angola.

LUANDA PROVINCE, Angola,  14 November 2011 – When two of her daughters came down with a fever, Conceição Antonió, 28, didn’t think of malaria at first, despite the fact that it’s the number-one killer of children in Angola. In fact, children under five years of age comprise 52 per cent of all deaths from malaria nationwide.

Number one killer

Ms. Antonio treated both girls, Graciete, six, and Antonica, four, with the fever reducer paracetamol. When their temperatures failed to go down after two weeks, she took the girls to the Cacuaco Health Centre, where they were both diagnosed with malaria. Fortunately it was still in its early stages and easily treatable.

“Using paracetamol on children with malaria only treats their fever, the plasmodium [malaria parasite] continues to multiply in their bodies, destroying blood cells and causing anaemia,” explained Dr. Nkanga Guimaraes, UNICEF Angola Child Health Specialist and a malaria expert. “Children treated with paracetamol often collapse and require blood transfusions as well as malaria treatment for complicated malaria when it’s finally diagnosed.”

Community health workers

Despite gains in the fight against malaria in Angola, the situation remains critical, with close to 4 million cases suspected each year. The rapid treatment of malaria is often complicated by a general lack of basic knowledge, especially in rural or peri-urban communities such as Cacuaco.

© UNICEF Angola/2011
UNICEF Angola Child Health Specialist Dr. Nkanga Guimaraes (left) and community health worker Carlos Gomez Baptista demonstrate the correct way to install a mosquito net to the Vittorino-Fortunato family in Cacuaco Municipality, Luanda Province, Angola.

In the case of Ms. Antonio for example, she did not know that her daughters contracted malaria from a mosquito bite. She had bought an insecticide-treated mosquito net for her newborn, after learning that it would help the baby survive, but never thought to get nets for her older children.

One initiative to combat this lack of knowledge is the UNICEF-facilitated training and use of community health workers by the Government of Angola. Each worker is at the frontline of the health programme here, responsible for 100 families in the community where he or she lives. The workers educate people on the prevention of common illnesses, try to strengthen family health competencies and encourage the use of health services.

Malaria prevention and treatment

Carlos Gomez Baptista, 47, was among the first group of trainees and has been a full-time health worker in Cacuaco Commune for three years. Nearly every day, he repeats lessons on the cause, prevention and need for rapid treatment of malaria. Mr. Gomez Baptista explained that many people fear being charged for treatment, even though the services at Cacuaco Health Centre are free.

Efforts to continue providing mosquito nets need to be matched with more education campaigns on how best to use them, and on the need for rapid treatment. Angola’s weak health infrastructure also needs strengthening in the wake of the country’s 27-year civil war.

“Malaria here is common and endemic,” said UNICEF Representative in Angola Dr. Koenraad Vanormelingen. “It’s like the flu in many more developed countries - the difference is, with a treated bed net and early diagnosis, it is much easier to avoid and to treat.”

He added, “If treatment doesn’t come quickly, malaria can kill a young child within 24 hour - that’s why community intervention through community health workers is so essential.”



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