Senegal's Child Survival Days focus on malaria prevention

By Nisha Bakker

DOUNGA WORO ALPHA, Senegal, 22 June 2007 - In this remote village at the Mauritanian border near Matam, northeastern Senegal, the 2007 Child Survival Days campaign is being remembered as a resounding success.

Held annually here during the last two weeks of May, the campaign targets all eligible children under the age of five, as well as mothers who recently gave birth. They receive vitamin A supplements and de-worming tablets, and have their bednets treated with insecticide to prevent malaria.

On one particular day during this year's campaign, the bednets were treated in every village in the region to better protect against the mosquito-borne killer disease.

Before the Child Survival Days began last month, teachers at Dounga Woro Alpha's elementary school instructed their students about the dangers of malaria and ways to prevent it. Then the teachers had a special task for all their charges: They asked the children to bring their families' bednets to school.

All the bednets would be treated with insecticide, the teachers promised. As they pointed out, a bednet that is treated once every six months provides a much higher degree of protection from malaria than a non-treated net.

'We all sleep under bednets'

In the classroom of one sixth-grade teacher, Mr. El Hadj, students brought their bednets in plastic bags. The young boys and girls stood in line outside the classroom, both excited and curious.

One at a time, the children were allowed into the classroom, where they met a team of heath volunteers who were keeping a tally of the nets brought in. The health workers washed the nets, treated them with insecticide and laid them out to dry.

"We all sleep under bednets at home. I have asked my parents whether I could bring our nets to school today so that ours would be treated as well," said Mariama, 11. "They were OK with this. When they are dry I will go home and hang them back in place.

"I am lucky and never had malaria in my life," she added. "But I my brother did. He was very ill. I will keep sleeping under a net, for sure, to protect myself."

Cutting malaria transmission

During the Child Survival Days campaign, 62,951 bed nets were treated in the Matam Region, at a cost of 70 cents per net. Properly used, these treated nets can cut malaria transmission by at least 50 per cent and child deaths due to malaria by an estimated 20 per cent.

Malaria causes almost 30 per cent of all child deaths in Senegal and up to 50 per cent of all hospital admissions in Africa. The disease hinders the development of those who survive it, and it is a major cause of anaemia and miscarriage in pregnant women.

Malaria is a common illness in Matam, especially during the rainy season between June and October. The Senegalese Government and its partners have strongly promoted bednet use, and as a result, more people are now sleeping under bednets to protect themselves and their families.