In Rwanda, successfully fighting a resurgence of malaria

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NYAMATA, Rwanda, 19 January 2012 – Across Rwanda, children are benefiting from faster malaria diagnosis, the widespread distribution of nets, and the diligence of hospital and health centre staffs determined to keep malaria in check.

These renewed efforts are driven by a recent resurgence in malaria cases, following the country’s drastic reduction in both illness and death rates from malaria.

“In May 2010, we had 32 malaria-related deaths of children under the age of 5 in our district,” said Celestin Nzarerwanimana during an interview in late 2011. He is a community health supervisor at Nyamata Hospital in southern Rwanda.

“This year, in May we had only 17 deaths. Our efforts are working, but we still need to remain vigilant.”

‘Our team is advancing’

The Government of Rwanda is serious about this vigilance, and has procured new equipment to ensure rapid diagnosis and treatment. Among these essential supplies is the rapid malaria test, which makes a diagnosis using blood from a pricked finger.

In addition, community health workers have visited tens of thousands of homes to check whether families were properly using their bed nets. They also provided advice about hygiene, safe water, nutrition and family planning.

“Now that these community health workers are equipped with a rapid prick test, diagnosis and treatment of malaria can be done almost instantaneously, without the sick needing to leave their homes,” said Mr. Nzarerwanimana.

“Every month, our team is advancing. We get better training and knowledge on home-based care so that we can treat simple illnesses and cut down on the time that pregnant women and small children who are sick have to travel to get care,” he added.

Changing lives

Egidie Umubyeyi, a 26-year-old mother who has just given birth to her third child, said the district malaria program changed her life.

”We used to have many malaria cases in our house, and in the neighbourhood,” she said. “That has changed. Now the health workers come once a month to check if I am using the nets properly.”

She says the extra care was invaluable when she was pregnant. “I was taught how malaria could be particularly bad for my child, and how it could lead to a premature birth. Thanks to this malaria programme, we are all healthy in my home.”

”Malaria is not something that is going to go away overnight,” said Dr. Friday Nwaigwe, Chief of Health and Nutrition at UNICEF Rwanda. “But through proper vigilance, rapid diagnosis and bed nets, we can at least keep it at bay.

“UNICEF is committed to supporting Rwanda’s government to improve child survival, which is why we provide both technical and financial assistance to strengthen technical guidelines, build the capacity of health personnel and support the organization with outreach interventions like ‘Mother and Child Health Weeks’, to help children survive and thrive.”