In Madagascar, an island nation off the southeast coast of Africa, agriculture-primarily the farming of rice and vanilla-thrives because of the mild climate. In the last several months, however, the island has become proficient in growing an unwelcome crop: mosquitoes.
Since December, a series of cyclones devastated crops, homes and roads throughout Madagascar, causing destruction without precedent in the country's recorded history. More than 190,000 people, about 9 percent of the Malagasy population, have been directly affected. At least 10,000 families have lost their homes, and 150 people have died.
In addition to the direct impact, the cyclones have spawned massive flooding throughout the island, providing mosquitoes ready access to standing water they need to breed. Preventing the spread of malaria became a critical priority, especially for families who lost their homes and were sleeping in unprotected areas.
A Protective Shield
Malaria is the leading cause of child mortality in Africa, killing nearly one million children-one child every 30 seconds-each year. To help lower the incidence of childhood malaria, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, including the American Red Cross, has partnered with the Child Survival Collaborations and Resource Group to promote primary healthcare programs, including malaria and measles prevention activities. These programs educate people at the local level, with a focus on women and children, who are considered most vulnerable to malaria.
The programs distribute free insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs), along with information on how to drain standing water to eliminate mosquitoes. The nets act as a protective shield that can be hung above a bed or in a room and then tucked in below the bed. The net prevents mosquitoes from biting the person who is sleeping inside the net and thus prevents the transmission of malaria from mosquitoes to people.
In addition to protecting people sleeping under them, ITNs also discourage mosquitoes from getting too close. The insecticide sprayed on ITNs keeps mosquitoes several feet away from the perimeter of the nets, meaning that a room with a mosquito net is also relatively secure from mosquitoes.
As part of the larger relief operation, the American Red Cross sent five disaster relief specialists to Madagascar to support the Malagasy Red Cross with response and recovery efforts, including the distribution of more than 10,000 ITNs in the northwest, west, and southeast regions of Madagascar-the areas hit hardest by the cyclones and floods. The American Red Cross will also be supporting the distribution of an additional 1.5 million ITNs during an integrated measles campaign in October.
"I have every confidence that with 10,000 nets, we are providing protection to twice as many people," says John Manley, an American Red Cross response team delegate to Madagascar. "I think that is pretty positive."
Educational brochures were handed out with each ITN and informational sessions were conducted to ensure that everyone knew how to use the nets. The sessions were organized by the American Red Cross but led by local volunteers.
For the Malagasy, the presence of the Red Cross has provided hope and support in addition to needed supplies. Even as they face years of rebuilding, the Malagasy are optimistic and grateful for the role of the Red Cross in making recovery a reality.
"At the end [of the ITN distribution], the entire village gathered around and sang a song of thanks," Manley said. "It was a very humbling experience."
- American Red Cross
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