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Guinea: the soul thieves

© UNICEF/Guinea/2009/Baro
Koumba Tolno has become a fervent advocate for the use of mosquito nets after having losen one of her children to malaria, in Kondiadou, Guinea.

Conakry, Guinea, 12 October 2009 - When 35-year-old Koumba Tolno laughs, the two charming marks carved on her cheeks become hard to miss. Her smile is sincere and refreshing.

At first glance, it is difficult to imagine that Koumba has already given birth to seven children. Bearing a slim body of medium stature, she still comes across as a young person with everything to discover about life.

However, Koumba has already experienced tragedy, when two of her babies died within a period of two years.

The first only ten days after birth and the second while he was starting to try his first steps, nine months after being born.

A main child killer called malaria
If Koumba struggles to understand the cause of her 10-day-old baby’s death, it is not the case for her other son. "He is dead because of malaria," she says sadly.

After her painful loss, Koumba has learnt lessons and adopted a new behavior. "As soon as my children’s bodies start becoming warmer I go immediately to the health center without wasting any time.

Besides, my children and I now sleep under mosquito nets. I have three in the house," she concluded.

Koumba is from Kondiadou, a rural community 42 kilometers from Kissidougou Prefecture, in the Guinean Forest Region.

After her painful experiences in the past, she decided to act and prevent new malaria cases among children in her village.

Additionally, she has become a village midwife and is always ready to support pregnant women in Kondiadou and other townships around the area.

She also often helps health agents during vaccination campaign.

In Guinea, some 62,000 children die every year before their fifth anniversary. This figure corresponds to nearly 170 deaths every day - or seven children per hour.

The main causes are diarrhea, malaria and acute breathing diseases.

The challenge of raising awareness
When winter comes in Guinea, from May to September, children become an open target to mosquitoes transmitting malaria, especially in the rural areas of the country.

© UNICEF/Guinea /Baro/2006
Two members of a women group in Kissidougou region, ensure the reimpregnation of bed nets to prevent malaria, which is the cause of high child and maternal mortality and morbidity rate

In order to assess the situation, UNICEF supported a number of health centers in rural Guinea to evaluate the need implement awareness-raising activities to try and reduce the amount of children succumbing to malaria.

Amazingly enough, research shows that general belief in remote areas of the country is that death due to malaria is caused by a child's soul being robbed by a bird.

After UNICEF's intervention, people who previously couldn't understand the disease now help promoting ways to avoid and fight it.

The 2015 challenge
The goal of the UNICEF Guinea, in cooperation with the local Government, is to reduce child mortality to 80 deaths for 1,000 living births by 2015.

In the next coming months, UNICEF has planed the distribution of one million mosquito nets as well as deworming tablets, vitamin A, and the roll-out of an immunization campaign.

By Michele Akan Badarou




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