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Somalia, December 2015: UNICEF and the Global Fund fighting malaria together

 

By Athanas Makundi

PUNTLAND, Somalia, December 2015 – In a dim makeshift tent, in Bossaso town, northeast Somalia, three-year-old Ayub Hassan lies on the floor, shivering with a high fever and vomiting. For the last three days, he has been battling with malaria. His mother Rahma Hassan is worried because despite giving him some medicine, there are no signs of improvement.

“I know it is malaria,” says Rahma Hassan Ibrahim firmly. She recognizes the symptoms all too well. “Last year, when he became sick like this, the doctor tested and found it was malaria. He was treated, his fever went down and he finally recovered.”

A team, registering families to receive mosquito nets around Bossaso town found little Ayub in critical condition. They immediately advised the mother to rush him to the nearest heath facility for proper testing and medication.

Ayub was eventually treated with antimalarial drugs and given multivitamins to boost his appetite.

“Malaria cases are on the rise and we expect to see more cases during this wet season,” says Faduma Abdullahi Ismail, a pediatric nurse at the Central Maternal and Child Health Clinic in Bossaso town.

“The problem is that people here use the traditional methods like smoke to scare away mosquitoes but it is not effective. If they slept under treated mosquito nets, I believe malaria cases will reduce.”

Malaria is a life-threatening disease transmitted through the bite of an infected Anopheles Mosquito. Children under-five are mostly the victims and the babies of mothers who caught malaria can suffer from anaemia, fetal growth retardation, premature birth and in some cases deaths inside the womb.

Malaria is still common in Somalia, particularly in the south, with over 600,000 people affected in 2014.

UNICEF, with generous support from the Global Fund is distributing over 1.4 million long lasting insecticide treated mosquito nets around Somalia to prevent the disease. Families have to be registered to receive a net.

“It is important we get the number of the households before the actual distribution,” says Fatuma Mohamed Amin, a social mobilizer accompanying teams registering families. “We are also educating the community about malaria and giving them the instructions on how to position the mosquito nets when they receive them.”

Registration for the nets has also started in Lughaya district, northwest Somaliland, where, UNICEF partner, HAVOYOCO is piloting RapidPro technology to carry out electronic registration. The software application is installed into a basic mobile phone that sends real-time data in the form of a text message to a computer database server.

“The process is simple and fast, each question prompts an answer,“ says Abdillahi Ali, HAVOYOCO Malaria Project Officer. “We have trained enumerators on how to use the software. The only challenge is the delay of the mobile network sending the text message.”

In a ceremony organized by the Health Ministry to publicize the distribution of 100,000 mosquito nets in Bossaso, Puntland’s deputy health minister Amina Mohamed, points out other ways to prevent the spread of malaria.

“Treatment of any disease like malaria takes time and may be difficult, so prevention is better than cure,” said the Deputy Minister during her speech. “The nets prevent malaria but there are other effective ways such as cleaning sites like draining water stagnation areas, where mosquitoes breed.”

The house-to-house net distribution is underway. Before handing out the nets, the teams demonstrate to families how to fix and position them to achieve maximum protection.

UNICEF is one of the largest buyers of mosquito nets in the world but getting them to the families in need is a huge logistics operation.

To date 550,000 of the 1.4 million mosquito nets have already reached Somalia and 850,000 more are in transit in Kenya and plans are underway to transport them by various means to their final destinations.

“Moving nets of this amount is not an easy task, it requires a lot of collaboration,” says Jenifer Kiattu, UNICEF Procurement Services Specialist. “But with a tight network and the logistics team, we ensure the nets reach their beneficiaries.

“As UNICEF, we ensure we get value for money. This year, we managed to lower the costs of the second consignment by 14 per cent which means more beneficiaries get to receive the nets.”

Over a quarter of Somali households now own at least one mosquito net – and the number of Malaria cases in Somalia has fallen by nearly three quarters since 2008.

The net distribution programme aims to achieve universal coverage by 2017 with over three million nets in malaria-affected areas of Somalia. While malaria is both preventable and treatable – the message is that prevention is always better than cure.

Hawa Hassan couldn’t hide her excitement, when the net distribution teams came to her house.

“Thank God the mosquito nets are here,” says Hawa Hassan, whose four children suffered malaria twice this year. “The nets have come at a good time, when mosquitoes are in plenty because of the rain.”

 

 

 
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