April 25th 2014 was World Malaria Day. Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite, transmitted by mosquito bites. Prevention is ideal, but treatment for malaria is also possible. Malaria does not have to be a killer disease. Although both prevention and treatment are expensive, organisations such as UNICEF, WHO, The Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, The World Bank and others are working towards eradicating malaria worldwide. One of the projects involves the funding and distribution of insecticide-treated nets (commonly known as ITNs).
Zambia is one of many sub-Saharan countries that struggles in the fight against Malaria. It affects more than 4 million Zambians a year, and results in over 8,000 deaths annually. That means 8,000 preventable deaths every year. Furthermore, 50% of the fatal cases are in children under 5 years old. It’s not all bad news, though. Some progress has been made in recent years: between the years 2000 and 2010 Zambia has halved its malaria mortality rate with their Roll Back Malaria campaign. (UNICEF Zambia). Yet it is not enough. More can be done.
As already mentioned, malaria is preventable and treatable, yet we are still seeing millions of cases per year. It is a complicated process, expensive and requires compliance on many levels. Sleeping under treated mosquito nets is one string of the defense; covering exposed skin is another. Once diagnosed with the disease, immediate treatment is imperative. The symptoms mimic other less serious ailments, such as influenza. These are all barriers to effective eradication of the disease.
Here’s the low-down according the World Health Organization:
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes.
In 2012, malaria caused an estimated 627 000 deaths (with an uncertainty range of 473 000 to 789 000), mostly among African children.
Malaria is preventable and curable.
Increased malaria prevention and control measures are dramatically reducing the malaria burden in many places.
Non-immune travelers from malaria-free areas are very vulnerable to the disease when they get infected.
So when I read this article this morning in the Lusaka Times, Turning Mosquito Nets into wedding dress laces, chicken run fences and fishing nets worry government, and then read some of the readers’ comments, I felt I had to write about it.
I have reproduced the article below:
GOVERNMENT has expressed concern at the increasing number of people misusing Insecticide Treated Mosquito Nets (ITNs) by turning them into wedding dress laces, materials for chicken run fencing and fishing purposes.
Namwala District Commissioner, Gavia Nsanzya said the mosquito nets should only be utilised to prevent malaria because it was a serious health burden.
Mr Nsanzya said Government was dismayed with reports and actions by some people particularly in remote areas to misuse mosquito nets.
“My office will not take kindly to anyone who will be found abusing mosquito nets. As Government, we believe it is high time we become responsible of our own destiny,” he said
Mr Nsanzya was speaking at the weekend at Chitongo Rural Health centre in Namwala during commemoration of this year’s World Malaria Day under theme ‘Invest in the future: Defeat Malaria’.
He said Government under diligent leadership of President Michael Sata was committed in providing quality health care services to people particularly those in rural areas.
“As Government, we are appealing to you brothers and sisters not to abuse these facilities. We have cases where mosquito nets have been used as fences for chicken runs, as well as wedding dresses and fishing nets,” he said.
World Vision Zambia (WVZ) coordinator for Maternal, Child Health, Nutrition and HIV/AIDS in Southern Province, Matrida Mukombo said the organisation would this year distribute a total of 2,283,000 mosquito nets across the country.
Ms Mukombo said scaling up the use of mosquito nets was one of major priorities of WVZ control strategy against malaria.
“World Vision as a child focused organisation has put malaria prevention, correct diagnosis and correct treatment especially for pregnant, lactating mothers and under five children as one of top agendas in its health programming,” she said.
If you follow the link, you will be able to view the comments section. Unfortunately, the reaction to the concerns over correct use of the nets lack sobriety. Malaria is so common here, and claims so many lives, yet Zambians do not treat the prospect of malaria with the severity it deserves. I believe there is still a lack of understanding about causes and prevention. The prevalence of standing water in the rainy season certainly aggravates the situation further.
Another issue may concern attitudes toward death in general. Unlike in western societies, very rarely does the news of an untimely or unexpected death prompt the response ‘Oh, I am so sorry. What happened?’
In Zambia, all too often, the cause of death is unknown: health care is spread very thin already. A postmortem examination is beyond the means of the average citizen. Cause of death is normally open to speculation rather than autopsy. Consequently, the true figure for number of deaths due to malaria may not be accurate; people do not always know why their loved ones have passed away.
I notice on the same newspaper website, the headline Mosquito Nets turned into goal post nets dated April 12th, 2013. They need nets in their football goals more than they need nets to protect themselves from malaria?
Conclusion? We can distribute mosquito nets and demonstrate their effective usage, but we can’t force people to use them for malaria prevention. The only option is to continue to educate, advise and distribute the means to beat the disease – hoping that little by little the death toll drops.