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Malaria testing and treatment for Ethiopians in remote regions

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2009
A health extension worker tests a young child for malaria with a rapid diagnostic kit.

JANGWA, Ethiopia, 25 November 2009 – A steady flow of parents and children make their way to the Jangwa Health Post in Dembia District, seeking treatment for malaria. The rainy season has recently ended, creating ideal breeding conditions for malaria-bearing mosquitoes here in Ethiopia’s Amhara region.

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Two health extension workers, Mantegbosh and Alemtsehay, sit outside the wattle-and-daub health post, testing villagers for the Falciparum plasmodium, a dangerous strain of malaria found in Ethiopia. They use UNICEF-supplied rapid diagnostic test kits and treat their patients with drugs supplied by UNICEF.

Waiting to be tested

The health extension team works efficiently, calming nervous children and adults as they wait to be tested and advising them on how to take the medication when the results turn up positive.

Malaria is endemic in Dembia, where there have been serious epidemics that killed villagers, including members of Mantegbosh’s family.

“I was in the ninth grade, and my father and brother died on the same day because of this disease,” says Mantegbosh. “They were not able to take them to the health centre, and they died at home.”

Major epidemics

Large-scale epidemics occur every five to eight years in certain areas, aggravated by climatic fluctuations and drought-related nutrition emergencies that weaken children’s immune systems. The last major epidemic occurred in 2003, when there were an estimated 6 million cases and more than 40,000 deaths.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2009
A woman holds her child, who is sick with malaria, in Jangwa village, located in Ethiopia’s Boricha District.

Proper malaria control could save thousands of children’s lives in Ethiopia every year.
In partnership with members of the Roll Back Malaria initiative, UNICEF has been working with the Government of Ethiopia to cut malarial morbidity and mortality in half by 2010, and another 50 per cent by 2015.
Since 2005, UNICEF Ethiopia has helped to distribute about 20 million insecticide-treated bed nets in malaria prone-districts such as Dembia. Health extension workers make sure that the nets are used properly and that stagnant pools, where mosquitoes breed, are drained.

Health services for rural areas

The Health Extension Programme is the Ministry of Health’s flagship strategy for providing basic health, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene to the majority of Ethiopians, 84 per cent of whom live in rural areas. More than 30,000 health extension workers have been trained and dispatched. Essential, immediate treatment is now available.

“In the past, people with malaria would have to walk more than an hour to get health services,” says UNICEF Health Project Officer Dr. Ahmed Abdurahman. “Now, thanks to the health extension programme, they are getting the service close to their home.”
Alemnesh Kasse, a mother of five, has come to the health post with her youngest daughter, Mastewal Sissay, 7, to get tested. The girl is vomiting and refuses to eat.

“She has had malaria before,” says the mother, “and in the past I would take her to Kola Diba for testing. But now we can get treatment right here. It is very good.”

‘It’s a big deal’

One by one, villagers in Jangwa get their fingers pricked for the malaria blood test. Then they wait patiently as the rapid diagnostic kits determine their status.

Mastewal’s results show that she does not have the Falciparum malaria strain. The extension workers refer her to the health centre for further tests.

The workers, Alemtsehay and Mantegbosh, labour diligently and with patience, despite the number of patients coming to them for treatment and the rudimentary facilities to accommodate them.

“I am very happy to be a health extension worker,” says Mantegbosh. “It is a big deal that I am able to serve the community where I was born and grew up. I also had malaria. In 2000, I was very sick. But now I am getting the community to use the services and prevent malaria.”




UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on rapid testing for malaria in Ethiopia’s Boricha District.
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