1.7 million mosquito nets distributed in Kenya malaria control campaign

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Anthony Mwangi and Peter Outa

Malaria is a life-threatening parasitic disease that accounts for one in five of all childhood deaths in Africa. In Kenya, malaria affects 20 million people annually and about 170 million working days are lost annually due to malaria illness. It claims approximately 34,000 lives annually. Pregnant women and their unborn children are particularly vulnerable to malaria, which is a major cause of pre-natal deaths, low birth weight, headache, vomiting and other flu-like symptoms, epilepsy, neurological problems, cerebral malaria, recurrent fever and maternal anaemia.

If drugs are not available for treatment or the parasites are resistant to them, infection progresses rapidly and becomes life-threatening. Many children who survive severe malaria may suffer from learning impairments or brain damage. Prompt access to treatment with effective up-to-date medicines, such as Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies (ACTs) and use of Long Lasting Insecticide-treated Nets (LLINs) have been confirmed as some of the most useful interventions that can curb the spread of malaria and save lives in Kenya.

It is with this in mind that the Kenyan President Hon. Mwai Kibaki launched the National Malaria Control Campaign at Mulula Market in Makueni District on 25th September 2006 to scale up malaria control efforts countrywide. The launch demonstrated Kenya's commitment towards achieving Roll Back Malaria goals in the fight against malaria. The Division of Malaria Control of the Ministry of Health (MoH), together with the Kenya Red Cross Society, WHO, UNICEF, Global Fund and DFID, among other partners, implemented a malaria prevention and control campaign.

The launch saw a new treatment policy for malaria in a move that aims at countering the perennial problem of malaria parasite resistance to first line drugs. In line with recommendations by the WHO, Kenya will now withdraw the use of sulphur-based drugs (known widely as SP) in favour of ACTs drugs whose formulation is designed to keep parasite resistance at bay longer. The campaign provided free malaria treatment in public hospitals and various posts through the ACT drug therapy.

The campaign also involved pre-positioning and distribution of LLINs by the Kenya Red Cross Society, targeting 1.7 million children under five years old in 24 malaria-prone districts countrywide. This included ten districts in Rift Valley, four in Eastern, four in Central and six in Coast provinces. Earlier in July 2006, 1.7 million LLINs were distributed in 22 malaria-prone districts in Nyanza, Western and Coast provinces. This made it a total of 3.4 million LLINs distributed this year in Kenya. LLINs retain their insecticidal properties for four to five years the life span, thus making re-treatment unnecessary.

"The malaria campaign offered us a chance to once again provide logistical, social mobilisation and volunteer support, especially after we successfully participated in the Integrated Mass Measles Campaign held earlier in April and July this year," said Dr. James Kisia, the Head of Health and Social Services at Kenya Red Cross Society.

16 Red Cross trucks were used to support distribution effort and logistical needs. The National Society pre-positioned LLINs in Eastern (Embu, Kitui, Makueni and Mbeere) and Central provinces (Kirinyaga, Maragua, Murang'a and Thika) through its logistical support.

"For us, it was not just about distributing nets, we trained volunteers in Makueni District to deliver health education messages and behaviour change communication, as well as communicated the importance of proper usage of mosquito nets," added Dr. Kisia. Behavioural Change Communication (BCC) and social mobilisation in the communities was carried out by the National Society to create awareness about the new malaria prevention and treatment.

In the National Malaria Strategy, Kenya has put in place four intervention approaches for control and prevention of malaria. These include management of malaria cases; vector control using treated nets and indoor spraying; control of malaria in pregnancy and control of malaria epidemics.

The Head of Malaria Control at the World Health Organisation Dr. Arata Kochi, urged all the stakeholders to work together because the challenge of fighting malaria was too big a burden for any individual organisation to tackle alone.

According to Dr. Willis Akhwale, the Head of Division of Malaria Control, MoH, the support offered by stakeholders made a big difference in making the campaign a success. He urged the National Society to continue providing the same assistance to alleviate human suffering in the communities. Later, as a follow up to this malaria prevention and control campaign, the MoH will distribute one million nets annually free of charge to pregnant woman over the next four years.