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Insecticide-treated nets help Malawi communities fight malaria

© UNICEF ESARO/2004/Lewnes
Week-long national net retreatment campaigns are held annually to ensure that nets are regularly retreated with insecticide in order to maintain their effectiveness.

By Alexia Lewnes

CHATOWA, Malawi, 22 April 2005 – The people of Chatowa know the dangers of malaria. It has killed many of their children and has left adults in the village too weak from fever to work or care for their families.

“I used to get attacks at least three times a year,” says Christina Yokoniya, Secretary of the Village Health Committee. “My whole family suffered. I couldn’t do housework and my husband would have to leave work to take me to the health clinic.”
But since the village health committee began distributing insecticide treated nets (ITNs) in June 2004 to the families in the village, fewer people in Chatowa are suffering from malaria.  “People no longer complain about malaria attacks and we have seen that we are not bitten by mosquitoes so often,” says Christina. 

As part of an effort to dramatically increase use of ITNs in Malawi, village health committees across the country are being recruited to assist in the battle against malaria. Committee members receive an orientation from the District Ministry of Health on the dangers of malaria and on the importance of correct and consistent ITN use. 
Patricia Galikoka didn’t think twice about buying a net. “At the time, I was pregnant and they told me that malaria can cause abortion and that a child can be born prematurely. I also have a two-year-old and they told me that small children get more serious attacks.”

© UNICEF ESARO/2004/Lewnes
A community health worker describes the use of insecticide-treated nets for new mothers. More than 95 per cent of women attend antenatal clinics, enabling the programme to reach many of those most at risk from malaria.

The first allotment of 30 nets was sold in less than one week. Nearly every family in the village has bought at least one net. The committee reinvested its profits to buy an additional 37 nets the next month.

Unfortunately, the supply cannot keep up with demand. All 72 nets purchased in October were sold in less than a week. By November, the committee was placing an order for 90 nets. “There’s a big demand from the neighbouring villages,” says Evance Chambakata, chairman of the village committee. “When a family is too poor to pay cash for the net, committee members accept bartered goods, such as maize or ground nuts as payment.”

Many village health committees are using the revenues from their net sales to improve their communities. In one village, a community was able to provide electricity to the local health facility. Another village drilled three wells to provide drinking water. In Chatowa, the committee hopes to raise enough money to drill a borehole so that everyone in the village can have safe, clean water.

Malaria cases have also been reduced. During August, September and October of 2002 an average of 600-700 cases of malaria were seen in the local health facility.  During the same months in 2004, the figures were almost 50 per cent lower.

A desire to spread the message about malaria keeps the committee members motivated.  “People are thanking us for bringing the project to the village because the frequency of their malaria attacks has been reduced,” says Evance Chambakata. “We feel very proud because we are helping to save lives.”



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