DR Congo

On World Malaria Day, UNICEF distributes mosquito nets in DR Congo

By Cornelia Walther

LUBUMBASHI, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 25 April 2012 – Today, on World Malaria Day 2012, a new mass campaign was launched, aiming to distribute 13.7 million long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLINs) to help protect people against malaria.

UNICEF reports on a massive mosquito net distribution taking place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on World Malaria Day 2012.

The campaign, covering Bandundu, Katanga, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, will reach at least 24.6 million beneficiaries. The vast operation is possible thanks to a UNICEF partnership with the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), together with funding from the World Bank and PMI-USAID. The World Food Programme (WFP), the NGO ALBA and other partners are also providing logistical support and transport.

A major cause of child death

Malaria is one of the major causes of morbidity in DRC, and a significant contributor to under-5 mortality.

“We were walking for two hours until we got here,” said Jolie, as she comforted her 2-year-old daughter Angie at a health centre. “The nurses said that my little one has malaria and anemia so they put here under intravenous treatment. I am worried for her, and I do not know how I will pay the hospital bill.”

Worldwide, a child under age 5 dies from malaria every minute – an estimated 1,500 child deaths per day. In 2010 there were an estimated 216 million episodes of malaria and an estimated 655,000 deaths.

In severe cases, the disease contributes to anemia among children, a major cause of poor growth and development. Reducing the burden of malaria is essential to the overall well-being of the population and the country’s future.

“We have an average of 10 to 15 cases a day, and about eight of them are diagnosed with malaria. Most of them are small children,” said Lusa Kaya, nurse at the health centre in Kasamba.

Putting nets in every house

But the good news is that malaria is both preventable and treatable. Sleeping under insecticide-treated nets can reduce overall child mortality by almost 20 per cent. There is evidence that insecticide-treated nets, when consistently and correctly used, can save nearly six children’s lives per year for every one thousand children sleeping under them.

“It’s a huge endeavor to get the nets to each household,” said UNICEF Logistic Officer Serge Nassena. “The nets are transported by barge, bicycle, canoe, truck and foot.”

Since DRC adopted the universal distribution of insecticide-treated nets as a major strategy to fight malaria, millions of nets have been distributed, with UNICEF support. The 2010 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey showed that 51 per cent of households had nets.

And to ensure correct use of the nets, UNICEF is conducting an awareness-raising campaign through local media, religious leaders and community workers, and is supporting monitoring and evaluation efforts. Malaria drugs are also being provided to health centres to ensure pregnant women and small children with malaria are correctly treated.

"The reduction of malaria in DRC is vital. It has a positive impact on the survival and development of Congolese children and represents a step towards the eradication of this disease in Africa," said UNICEF Representative in DRC Barbara Bentein. “All children have the same right to health. Together we can make this right a reality in the DRC. "

It will be essential to reach each single Congolese household to achieve universal coverage.

Partnerships to fight malaria

UNICEF is part of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, a coordinated global response to the disease. The partnership is comprised of more than 500 partners, including malaria endemic countries, their bilateral and multilateral development partners, the private sector, and nongovernmental and community-based organizations.

UNICEF is also partnering with Katanga's soccer team, Tout Puissant Mazembe, one of the most famous soccer clubs in Africa, to raise awareness about the importance using mosquito nets to prevent malaria.

“UNICEF is wonderful,” said Moise Katumbi, Governor of Katanga Province. “Once all our partners will do as much as they do, we will achieve a lot in Katanga Province and all over our country.”