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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

“The Mamas” go door to door to help villagers with health

© UNICEF WCARO/2003/ Page
Kapolowe village women discuss malaria and mosquito bed-nets with women from Kapolowe village who have been specially trained in social mobilization and health issues.

By Kent Page

KAPOLOWE VILLAGE, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 26 August 2004 – The villagers here are lucky to live near Lake Tshanga-Lele: Fish from the lake provide a convenient source of food. But the shores of the lake are also a potential source of death. Malaria infected mosquitoes bring danger, disease and death to many here.

In October and during the fall months it is the rainy season in Kapolowe village in the southern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, explains Francine. “It’s the best time of the year for the mosquitoes and the most dangerous time of the year for us.”

© UNICEF WCARO/2003/ Page
Francois builds a pirogue (a boat) on the banks of Lake Tshanga-Lele, DRC. Fish from the lake are a source of life, but the mosquitoes that breed along the banks are a potential source of death for the people of Kapolowe village.

Francine is one of four village women known as ‘Mamas’; the others are Justine, Alphonsine and Celestine. Each of the ‘Mamas’ goes door to door helping educate villagers on the most important health issues facing them.

The ‘Mamas’ are part of a 10-woman social mobilization health team. The team works on fighting malaria and the mosquitoes that transmit it. They also take on any other health issue or threat faced by the village.

© UNICEF WCARO/2003/ Page
Jolie sleeps with her baby son under a mosquito net in her small, red mud-brick house in Kapolowe village. The net serves as an effective, preventive barrier against mosquitoes and malaria.

“We are all responsible for a certain number of houses,” says Mama Celestine. “We make sure that we each go house-to-house to talk with all the villagers about the leading health problem at the time. Now it’s malaria and the mosquito bed-nets, before it
was cholera and before that it was measles.”

She continues, “We also discuss nutrition issues, such as the importance of breast-feeding. We like to sit with groups of people to discuss their health concerns because then we all learn more things from one another … and it’s more fun.”

It can be fun but the ‘Mamas’ are serious about their mission.

Accelerated Child Survival and Development

The ‘Mamas’ work in reaching out to fellow villagers and helping them with their health care needs is a good example of Accelerated Child Survival and Development.

This new UNICEF programme, called ACSD for short, packages an array of health services attempting to bring care right into people’s homes, says UNICEF Executive Directory Carol Bellamy.

© UNICEF WCARO/2003/ Page
UNICEF helps facilitate the provision of mosquito nets, free of charge for pregnant women in Kapolowe village following the pre-natal health care program at the local health clinic.

We have learned that the health interventions that have the greatest potential to save children’s lives are those that rely on action and knowledge in the household itself, especially in poor households beyond the reach of professional care,” Ms. Bellamy observed.  “This means strengthening health systems with renewed investment but also extending basic care from the health centre into the home, empowering families to do more of what’s needed to keep children healthy.”

Preventing child deaths

Every year, more than 10 million children die totally preventable deaths. Some are directly caused by illness – pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles – and others are affected by indirect causes such as conflict and HIV/AIDS. Malnutrition, lack of safe water and inadequate sanitation are contributing factors to more than half of these deaths.

Six million of these lives could be saved by basic, cost-effective measures such as  vaccines, antibiotics, micronutrient supplementation, improved breastfeeding practices and insecticide-treated bednets.

Next year the Mama’s may take on something other than malaria. No matter what the issue is, they will be ready for action, and welcomed by those in Kapolowe village.




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