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In Rwanda, free mosquito nets save lives

© UNICEF Rwanda/2010
A mother and child in Rwanda are among those benefitting from UNICEF-supported home-based care and the distribution of free insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets.

By Misbah M. Sheikh and Cyriaque Ngoboka

MAYANGE, Rwanda, 29 June 2010 – Seraphine Kabasinga, mother of four, has always been scared of malaria. She lives in an endemic zone, just an hour east of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.

“I would use tree branches like cypress as mosquito repellents on windows and close our doors before sunset to protect my family from mosquito bites,” she said. “Today, young mothers are luckier than I was, because if you are pregnant and you go to a health centre for regular checkups, the government gives you a free net.”

Malaria is both preventable and treatable, and effective tools to prevent and treat it have been developed. Sleeping under insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs) can reduce overall child mortality by up to 20 per cent. There is evidence that bed nets, when consistently and correctly used, can save 6 lives per year for every 1,000 children sleeping under them.

Preventive measures

Today in Rwanda, UNICEF and its partners are fighting malaria by supporting regular check-ups for mothers and children throughout the country. And bi-annual Mother and Child Weeks help to locate pregnant women and provide them with insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs), free of charge.

Taking preventive measures against malaria during pregnancy can significantly reduce the proportion of low-birthweight infants and maternal anaemia.

This strategy, supported by the Canadian Committee for UNICEF, aims to end malaria in Rwanda. Home-based care and distribution of long-lasting ITNs, along with such events as the Mother and Child Health Weeks, have contributed to a rapid decline in malaria prevalence among Rwandan children under the age of five.

Health and economic growth

Reversing the spread of malaria is crucial for the survival, health and development of children, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Malaria also has serious economic impacts in Africa, slowing economic growth and development and perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty – mainly afflicting the poor who live in malaria-prone rural areas. Through projects such as the distribution of free nets in Rwanda, UNICEF is working to help cut down on lost productivity hours and end the cycle of ill health and poverty.

“Mother and Child Health Weeks are important, not only for ensuring that mothers and children receive critical, life-saving interventions, but to ensure that key messages related to accelerating maternal and child survival are passed to as many people as possible,” said UNICEF Representative in Rwanda Joseph Foumbi.

“Before we started sleeping under these nets, I had at least one episode of malaria a month in my home,” said Alvera Mukamana, a neighbour of Ms. Kabasinga. “Now that we have long-lasting mosquito nets, we have not had a case of malaria.... I have saved money that has enabled me to pay health insurance for all my family and invest in a small boutique.”



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