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Distributing a Life Saver - insecticide treated mosquito nets reduce child deaths in Somalia

© UNICEF/2007/CKMinihane
A young boy at the Hanano 1 IDP camp with an Insecticide Treated Mosquito net donated by the Baidoa MCH Clinic

By Christine Kapka

Baidoa, Central/Southern Somalia, November, 2007 – It was almost a year ago that Ahado Hassan lost her three year old daughter Hawa to malaria. She says she still dreams of her, laughing and playing in the water, and asks the doctor if it is normal for the mind to dream of those things which are lost forever. The doctor is busy examining Ahado’s other daughter, Fatima. She is sick with stomach pain and constant diarrhea; she’s losing weight and suffers from fevers. The doctor will test her for malaria.

At least one out of every seven children born today in Somalia will not live to see their fifth birthday. Most will die from easily preventable or treatable illnesses such as diarrhea and malaria.

Malaria is one of the leading killers of children under age five accounting for almost 1 death in 10 worldwide and nearly 1 in 5 in sub-Saharan Africa.

“This is why our mosquito net programme is so important,” said Dr. Abdinor Mohamed, a UNICEF staff member and coordinator for the Global Fund for Malaria programme. “It doesn’t get any worse than having your child die in your arms.”

At the time of her daughter’s death, Ahado did not have a mosquito net. In fact, she had no idea what malaria was, what the symptoms were, how to treat it or where to go for help. In a country where the residents can suffer from several malaria attacks in any given year, she made do the only way she knew how.

“I was confused by the different symptoms and thought it was a fever sickness of some type and I gave my daughter the herbal remedies that I learned from my mother,” said Ahado. “But they didn’t work to stop the terrible fevers and chills. Then my husband and I called the religious leader from our neighborhood. He performed many prayers and rituals for her but nothing seemed to help. Finally, my family forced me to take her here, even though I did not want to. I was afraid.”

But it was too late. Her daughter died in her arms at the clinic.

To prevent cases such as these, a malaria reduction programme has been established that aims to decrease malaria by distributing free mosquito nets to the vulnerable and poor population in high-risk areas. To help those already infected, UNICEF supports the provision of WHO-recommended Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy.

UNICEF and its partners hope to reduce adult and child malaria deaths by more than 50% by the year 2010.  Achieving this would not be possible without the support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, who has been supporting malaria control efforts in Somalia since 2004.

Preventive programmes such as this one are particularly essential in Somalia due to the limited number of health facilities and trained medical staff in the country. Somalia’s health care indicators rank among the worst in the world and are due in a large part to the chronic conflict that has affected the country for the last 16 years.

“I have learned a lot from my Hawa’s death,” said Ahado. “About health, nutrition and hygiene and I’ve learned how to take better care of my family and protect them from diseases, especially malaria. And most importantly I have learned to use a mosquito net.”

In 2006, 390,000 insecticide treated bednets were procured through UNICEF’s supply system and distributed to families throughout Somalia. The impact of this mass distribution, targeting young children and pregnant women, is already evident. Records from Jowhar Hospital in Central and Southern Somalia show a huge decrease in malaria admissions, down from 1849 patients in 2005 to just 49 patients in the first half of 2007. By the middle of 2007, an additional 207,817 nets were in the hands of mothers and children like Ahado and Fatima.



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