Malaria season

Rain and flooding are causing malaria surges

Helene Sandbu Ryeng
A boy looking at the camera from a baby carrier
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng
27 September 2020

Emmanuel is leaning towards his mother Sara's back in the baby carrier. "He has been sick for a month," she explains. Fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. The general condition is poor; no energy no initiative. Sara has taken Emmanuel to the UNICEF supported health centre in Pibor which normally is situated a bit north of the main market. The flood water has submerged the clinic, but UNICEF has found dry land on the other side of town where tents are erected to accommodate patients. With severe flooding, this is the time to step up.

Every year, South Sudan is experiencing seasonal rain from approximately April to October. With the rain comes puddles of water which becomes breathing grounds for Anopheles mosquitoes carrying the parasite causing malaria infections. With flooding as we now see in several states, the number of breathing grounds are multiplied increasing the risk of malaria infections. Rainy season is malaria season. 

A health worker is gathering the blood after pricking a child's finger
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng

A health worker is pricking Emmanuel's finger and immediately a drop of blood appears. A small plastic pipette is used to draw up the blood before it is transferred onto a small tester. The result is ready within minutes.

Malaria is a severe and potentially fatal disease- one of the top three causes of child mortality in South Sudan. Early treatment is key for surviving the disease. Yet, too many children don't get the treatment on time. 56 per cent of the population live 5 kilometers or more from the nearest health facility, which hinders access to early diagnosis and treatment.

A woman holding malaria medication
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng
Sara has picked up the malaria drugs for her son.

Emmanuel's test is a clear positive and the doctor is proscribing the treatment which Sara picks up at the makeshift commissary. Given that Emmanuel has been sick for a longer period, treatment must commence immediately.

Just a few meters away is four-year-old Koli. She has been sick with fever and a cough for a month according to her mother Nyachimach. Given we are in the midst of malaria season, this is the first thing the doctors are checking. The test comes back positive.

A girl looking into the camera
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng
Four-year-old Koli at a UNICEF supported health care centre in Pibor.

Nyachimach is given the proscribed medication and a mosquito net for preventing new malaria infections and protecting the rest of her children. Evidence shows that in malaria-endemic areas, sleeping under mosquito nets treated with an insecticide reduces the number of malaria infections. In partnership with the World Bank and with support from UK Aid, UNICEF is providing long-life insecticide mosquito nets for children and their families in Jonglei, including through outreach activities.

A woman in given drugs
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng
Nyachimach is receiving the malaria drugs for her daughter

The health worker and also everyone else can see that the four-years old is too thin for her age, He is doing a quick screening of Koli which shows that she is suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM). Malaria is one of the main causes of  wasting in children in South Sudan and if we don't reduce the number of malaria infections and provide early treatment, we will not be able tackle malnutrition. 

To improve access to health care in some of the most conflict affected areas in South Sudan, UNICEF has partnered with the World Bank. A blended approach providing services on facility level and doing outreach activities, will improve detection, prevention and treatment of malaria; improving children's health and reducing child mortality in South Sudan.