By Guy Hubbard
Concentrated efforts to fight malaria in Chad mean the disease is facing powerful adversaries: mosquito nets and the dedicated health volunteers who teach communities how to use them.
KELO, Chad, 25 April 2014 – In the dry and dusty district of Kelo, in southern Chad, rain clouds build and then dissipate in the rising heat. Their brief appearance hints at the fast-approaching rainy season, which is both a blessing and a curse. It drives away the baking heat, and farmers anxiously await its arrival. But, it also brings mosquitos and, with them, malaria – the biggest killer of children here.
In the last year, Kelo has had over 45,000 registered cases of malaria, and over 200 people have died of the disease, most of them children and pregnant women.
Behind the numbers
Sinamani Pauline knows the dangers of malaria all too well. She has lost six of her seven children to the disease, most recently her 7-year-old daughter.
“We took her to the health centre, but it was death that we brought home,” recalls Pauline. “All of my children were like that – their sickness never even reached two days; they were attacked by malaria, and just like that, it was over.”
Just beyond the shade of the mango trees outside Pauline’s home lies a gravesite for the children, a small mound covered with freshly placed rocks. Inside her house, sleeping mats are rolled up against the wall, but there are no mosquito nets – no protection from malaria.
“When you sleep under a net, the mosquitos don't touch you; you don't get malaria,” explains Pauline. “But, we don't sleep under a net. In our village here, you can't find them. I can't buy them anyway because I don't have the money.”
In the build-up to the rainy season – and malaria season – UNICEF, in partnership with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as the Government of Chad, is planning a mass distribution of mosquito nets throughout the country. The goal is universal coverage: one net for every two people.
To achieve that goal, they are working closely with people like Pauline’s sister, Veronique, who became a community health volunteer to help fight malaria in her village.
“The causes of malaria are the dirty water and garbage that we put around our houses because it is this water and garbage that becomes the nests of mosquitoes,” Veronique explains. “As a community volunteer, I advise people to clean their surroundings and put their children under nets because, when malaria affects children, they die easily.”
Today, while helping Pauline fetch water and cook sorghum porridge, Veronique has also been teaching her sister how to use and care for the mosquito nets she will receive.
“She explained to me how to work with the nets,” says Pauline. “You have to hang them up by the four corners, and you can't leave any space for mosquitoes to get in. Otherwise, the mosquitoes will bite you, and you'll get malaria.”
Distributing mosquito nets
Pauline receives two nets, which will, when properly placed, protect her and her surviving son, Azaria, as well as Pauline’s mother, who also lives with the family.
“I hope that my child will stay healthy and will continue his studies until the end,” she says.
But for Veronique, the distribution itself is only half the job. After every household in the village has received their nets, she'll need to go door-to-door again, making sure they are correctly hung and being properly used.
The dedication of people like Veronique means the campaign will have a huge impact on the rate of malaria here. Lives depend on it.
Pauline was among those selected to receive mosquito nets during initial trial runs of the distribution, which is officially scheduled for 25 April, World Malaria Day.