Friday, April 24, 2009

The One Million People Killer Disease

A child dies every thirty seconds from Malaria.

One million people die every year from Malaria.

Yet malaria is a preventable disease. And mosquitoe nets are the most cost-effective and hands-on preventive solution available.

Malaria will not be eradicated unless the distribution of mosquito nets is accompanied by extensive and prolonged community education and empowerment efforts.

Communities must own the response if malaria prevention is to be successful. Families at risk of being infected with the disease must know how to properly use nets and fully understand the risks they are taking if simple preventive steps are neglected.

A new report which we have just published today (World Malaria Day) demonstrates how the combination of distributing mosquito nets and working closely with the affected communities is a winning formula in the fight against malaria. When communities are trained in prevention of malaria and are empowered to ensure effective use of mosquito nets then the impact is significant and lasting. Specifically, independent studies now show that preventive use of mosquito nets goes up between ten to twenty three per cent each time a volunteer from the affected community visits families that have received a net.

Statistics may fluctuate from one country to another depending on the type of comnunities reached by the campaigns. However, the report makes it clear that distributions will only successfully reduce malaria if they are complemented by the forgotten component of malaria prevention: door-to-door education and support.

Eighty six per cent of malaria cases occur in Africa but it nevertheless remains a global problem also affecting countries in large parts of Asia and Latin America.

Rolling Back Malaria in Haiti

Let's take the case of Haiti.
The year 2008 was not a good one for Haiti. This small country – one of the most vulnerable in the world – suffered a string of cyclones that devastated coastal areas, claiming a considerable number of victims and causing widespread destruction.

The health effects of the disaster were also considerable. The presence of stagnant water led to a resurgence of diseases caused by dirty water, and the dramatic rise in the number of mosquitoes led to an increased risk of malaria.

Right after the cyclones struck the country, volunteers from the Haitian Red Cross distributed impregnated mosquito nets. But we very quickly realized that we needed to extend immediate recovery efforts to include training for volunteers on how to prevent malaria, detect suspected cases and refer them to health facilities, so that they could disseminate relevant messages in the community, such as the importance of using mosquito nets, particularly for pregnant women and children under five.

This was how the programme, initially designed to distribute mosquito nets to 10,000 families, came to be launched in various areas in the country affected by the cyclones. Subsequently, it was extended to the area of Nippes, in the southwest of the country, which was chosen because it is an inaccessible area populated by vulnerable people, where the bad condition of roads hinders access to health care. Most inhabitants are poor. Although the effects of the disaster in this region received little media coverage, the impact was no less real or traumatic.

Around fifty volunteers from the Haitian Red Cross have been involved in the malaria prevention programme over the past few weeks. Their job is to identify the people most at risk in 45 places in the towns of Miragoane and Baradères, particularly households with pregnant women and children under five, who are most at risk from malaria. The three-month prevention and education campaign targets approximately 6,000 people out of a catchment population of around 60,000.

Thanks to the domino effect of the dissemination of messages, it is estimated that a total of around 30,000 people will be reached indirectly through their neighbours, relatives and community leaders (mayors, priests, hospital directors, etc.).

Once families have been identified, volunteers organize community meetings, discussion groups and home visits, during which they explain the dangers of malaria and how impregnated mosquito nets can provide effective protection. They then distribute the mosquito nets and visit the beneficiaries’ homes to ensure that they have been properly fitted.

Furthermore, these same volunteers are trained to detect people presenting the telltale signs of malaria and send them to health centres as quickly as possible.

All our volunteers live in the town where they work. They therefore know the area that they operate in very well, which increases their credibility in the eyes of the beneficiaries. This increases acceptance of prevention messages in the community and promotes changes in behaviour for the benefit of their health.

Many volunteers recruited for the programme to combat malaria also received first aid training, so that they are able to answer basic public health questions from beneficiaries when they visit their homes during the malaria prevention campaign promoting the proper use of mosquito nets.

In addition to the recovery assistance provided to help people get back to normal after the damage caused by the cyclones last year, the project also contributes to community health education and prevention efforts, making local communities more aware of the dangers of malaria and ensuring that they are better prepared to deal with future outbreaks of malaria when natural disasters strike Haiti again,” concludes Dr Myrtha Louissaint.

As a result of Red Cross / Red Crescent net distributions, since 2002 more than 289,000 malaria deaths have been averted, while 17.5 million people have been protected.

For more information please check out the World Malaria Day section on our website or watch this 2 min video on our youtube channel.



  1. The campaign to provide bed nets is tantamount to telling families in Africa to stay in bed. Take a few minutes to watch this video by WORLDwrite volunteers

  2. Thx for the feedback Stef and for the video link which I have shared with the head of our malaria program. Personally, I was involved in a DDT campaign in Azerbaijan/Iran in 1995/96. There were some short term improvements but the mosquitoes returned more determined than ever. Nets are not going to wipe out mosquitoes of course this comes with better drainage, waste management etc. The Red Cross always uses a comprehensive approach were possible and assesses its results based solely on community feedback and engagement. We do not claim that nets alone will succeed but only combined with proper infrastructural development. Chemicals (which did cause headaches for the population in Azerbaijan and there are known cancer risks - there were also real fears of purchasing bootleg chemicals unwittingly as regulation is a major problem in many parts of the world, as is safe storage etc.)