KISANGANI, DR Congo , 07 January 2010 - Whenever a mother arrives at the Umoja Health Centre near Kisangani with a young child who is running a temperature, vomiting, or convulsing, the health workers there know the diagnosis is likely to be malaria.
Lucie is the mother of Cecilia, 4, who is suffering from malaria for the second time this month. Florence, the nurse at the health centre, has prescribed anti-malarial drugs for Cecilia once again.
It's estimated that Congolese children under the age of five suffer at least six bouts of malaria each year. More than 90,000 children die of malaria each year. Others become orphaned when their parents succumb to the illness.
Prevention better than cure
Even if it is available, malaria treatment is too costly for many. Madame Angele works at the health centre. She advises parents who come for postnatal consultations to keep their surroundings clean, cover their latrines and sleep under insecticide-treated nets.
For many months now, UNICEF and its partners, WHO, UNITAID, USAID, the European Union and the World Bank have been working to distribute 5.5 million bed nets to 1.8 million households in Oriental and Maniema provinces.
"I am convinced that the mass distribution in the two provinces will contribute to the reduction of child and maternal mortality," said UNICEF Representative in the DRC Pierrette Vu Thi.
Each household (an average of six people), on presentation of a ticket previously distributed by a community worker, receives three mosquito bed nets. For the distribution operation to succeed, all transportation means have been deployed: cargo planes; boats and wooden canoes on the Congo River (which is not always navigable); rickety trains; trucks on impassable roads, and motorbikes on potholed paths.
The rainy season has further complicated the already formidable logistics.
"At times the river's force has been so strong that everyone has had to be careful not to allow the nets to sink," said UNICEF Logistics Officer Dodo Missingi. "Furthermore, the trucks have been stuck on roads where bridges have been broken and in some instances human strength has been required to bale the nets from one truck to another for them to continue their journey."
There is an atmosphere of excitement among the people who have gathered to receive the free nets.
Monauie has four children and she declares that sometimes her son Samuel, 3, gets malaria several times in a month.
"We are really very happy to receive these bed nets free of charge. I will be able to replace my old nets, which now have holes in them. That is how the mosquitoes get in, bite us and make us ill with malaria."