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A campaign against malaria

In Kenya today, many more children than before are surviving one of the country’s biggest killers, malaria. Thanks to efforts by the Kenyan Government and international partners, including the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, greater access to long-lasting, insecticide-treated mosquito nets is largely responsible for this boost to child survival.

Dr Shenaaz Sherif, head of preventive medicine at the Kenyan Ministry of Health, speaks about the different policy approaches that the have been used to distribute such mosquito nets. “Every pregnant woman who came to our clinics would get a net at a subsidized cost. Nets would also be subsidized for children under five. But the greatest impact was giving out the nets free.”

Whole villages are now using nets. Together with domestic spraying, their use has proven to be one of the most effective ways to prevent malaria. With increased protection from the disease, the improved health of the Kenyan people will, in turn, have an impact on their economic productivity. As Dr Sherif comments, “In adults, malaria is the most common cause of absenteeism from work. So, in the long run, [these steps to prevent the disease] will lead to greater productivity.”

The Kenyan Ministry of Health is also aware that a scale-up in access to mosquito nets must follow. “Our next phase, will be [to reach] all women and children. The next group is people with HIV and AIDS, and the third will be universal access. But right now we don’t have the funding or the mechanisms,” Dr Sherif concludes.

Free treatment for Kenyan children

Along the humid coastal region in areas such as Mombasa, an average family used to spend about $20 a year on malaria treatments. Today, free treatment is available to all Kenyan children. For instance, when six-year-old Simon arrived at Mombasa’s main hospital with his mother, Miriam Lungo, he had all the signs of the deadly disease. Too weak to sit or stand, he was treated and admitted free of charge. Usually at least 10 patients a week are ill enough to be admitted here, but Simon was the first in two weeks. In the past, Lungo, like so many others, could not afford malaria treatment and had to rely on the herbal remedies of traditional doctors or cheap counterfeit medicine. Free treatment has meant that mothers now bring their children to the hospital at the first sign of the killer disease, making it easier to treat them and easier to save lives.

“I came here because I knew the treatment was free and I can trust the government hospitals. I know I won’t get fake treatment,” says Lungo. “Now that I’ve seen what malaria can do, I will make sure my son sleeps under a net.”

Kenya is showing the way in the struggle against malaria by increasing access to mosquito nets, promoting greater use of indoor residual spraying and providing anti-malarial remedies, particularly to children, within the first 24 hours of infection.

Learn about global health partnerships to address malaria and other threats >>