Published: 21 April 2011 15:54 CET
By Benoit Carpentier in Liberia
We are on the outskirts of Zwedru in south-eastern Liberia. After a few minutes’ drive, we arrive in Sarah’s village. Sarah is 18, but looks 13. When we arrive, Sarah is busy taking care of the house, cleaning and cooking. Children are around playing in and around the house, whilst her parents are working in the fields.
“There are 11 people living in this house,” she says. “I am preparing rice for today’s lunch. This is all we have at the moment. I will prepare some sauce to go with it later.”
As she is preparing the food, a baby is crying. She goes and brings back a tiny little girl. “Her name is Blessing,” she says. “She’s my daughter. She’s six months old.”
Sarah frequently has malaria. She says that malaria “catches her” at least five to six times a year. “Your body is sore, you feel a lot of pain, and you have headaches and fever. When I get malaria, I usually go to the hospital. They give me tablets and then I feel better after a while.”
Access to health facilities is one of the main challenges in Africa. In Sarah’s case, she is lucky as the nearest hospital is only a few kilometres away.
“I had malaria twice when I was pregnant – once at the beginning and again at the end just before I gave birth.” Sarah gave birth after just seven and a half months of pregnancy to two premature twins.
“The doctor said that they were very small and that it must be due to malaria. The second baby died after three days because she was too small. She died at the hospital before we came back home. That’s why I called the other baby Blessing,” she says.
Despite the medication and treatment that Sarah took during her pregnancy, she still faced the traumatic experience of losing her baby as a result of the disease.
In Sarah’s family no one sleeps under a mosquito net. She says that they can’t afford it and that so far the government has not provided any for them.
A week after our first visit, we went back to Sarah’s village. It was first day of the distribution of free long-lasting insecticide-treated nets. A couple of days before Sarah had received the visit from volunteers of the Liberian Red Cross. They came to the house to assess how many nets were needed (with a maximum of three per household).
Now they are back with the free bed nets to explain how to use the nets and keep them in good condition. Then the volunteers go to each sleeping place in the house to install the nets.
“We actually hang a net on each bed,” says the Red Cross supervisor. “We explain how to hang it back up after they have washed it. That way we are sure that people have the nets hanging correctly over their beds.”
Sarah is watching their every move, listening very carefully to all the instructions they give her. “I am very happy that tonight I will be able to sleep under a mosquito net with my daughter.”
Her emotions are easy to understand. She knows all too well the value of this net and she and her daughter will make very good use of it.
“I will take care of my daughter for a while and then I will try to find a job, but at least I know that we won’t get malaria. My daughter is called Blessing and this is a blessing too!”