Preventing malaria, one net at a time
By Simon Peter Apiku
As the onset of the rainy season threatens a rise in malaria cases in South Sudan, UNICEF is helping to protect families with insecticide-treated bed nets and medication.
JUBA, South Sudan, 22 May 2015 – A young woman secures her baby tightly on her back with a piece of cloth and bends down to pick up a package on the ground in front of her.
But this is no ordinary package.
Jackline Wayet, the 20-year-old mother of two, has just collected two mosquito nets from the Gurei Primary Health Care Center, on the outskirts of South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
“I came because the bed net I have is worn out, and the mosquito season has begun,” said Wayet.
Her 6-month-old baby, Sarah, has already had malaria three times.
Wayet is among thousands of people gathered at the health care centre to receive bed nets that the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and partners distributed as part of a ‘Test, Treat and Prevent Malaria’ campaign.
The onset of the rainy season in much of South Sudan brings with it the heightened threat of malaria – one of the major killer diseases among children under 5 years old. From January to April this year, more than 331,001 malaria cases have already been treated. Of these, nearly 131,700 were reported among children under 5.
Malaria cases are expected to rise substantially as the wet season matures and access to health care, especially in conflict-affected states, becomes more difficult. Since December 2013, 43 per cent of health facilities in the conflict-affected areas have been destroyed.
A small relief for families
Families are finding it increasingly difficult to manage the increasing cost of living in South Sudan. Prolonged conflict has put pressure on the economy, already affected by a volatile exchange rate and the low price of oil, the country’s chief export.
Even paying for an item such as a long-lasting insecticidal net is beyond the reach of many in a country where more than half the population live below the poverty level and earn less than US$ 2 per day.
Wayet is no exception. Three years ago, she bought her mosquito net, now worn-out and disheveled, for $5. Today, the same net costs around $13.
“I cannot afford to buy another bed net in the market,” Wayet explains, grateful for the new ones she has been given.
Recently Wayet’s family has fallen on tough times. Her husband lost his job, so she sells vegetables and fruit at a nearby market to earn money. With this small source of income, her family is able to eat one small meal a day.
While times are hard, Wayet hopes that the new mosquito nets will at least spare her young children from malaria this rainy season, and also ensure that that she does not have to spend what little money she earns on treating the disease with expensive drugs.
UNICEF is responding to the expected increase in childhood malaria during the rainy season by supporting the Ministry of Health and partners with prevention and treatment measures.
Long-lasting insecticidal nets are being distributed to women accessing antenatal care and children under 5 in health facilities.
Malaria medications and rapid testing kits have also been distributed throughout the country. UNICEF has pre-positioned more than 456,600 doses of antimalarial medication, to ensure the prompt treatment needed to save children’s lives, regardless of their families’ means.