[This article by Junko Mitani was posted to the UNICEF web site in September of 2007, but the word still needs to be spread that bed nets do work. The text of this article and the accompanying photo are the property of UNICEF. At the end of the article, there is a link to a short video on the project.]
GUOMONGO VILLAGE, Ghana, 10 September 2007 – Malaria remains the largest single killer of children in Ghana, taking a toll of approximately 20,000 child deaths every year. One in every four deaths of Ghanaian children under the age of five is due to the mosquito-borne disease.
Malaria also continues to be a major contributor to prevailing poverty and low productivity here.
But ongoing support from Japan – including $1 million contributed recently – is helping families in Ghana reduce the spread of malaria and its deadly impact.
Prevention is the key
Apripey Anyongubire, a mother from Gumongo village in the country’s Upper East Region, has suffered the loss of two children to malaria.
“One evening, I realized one of my children had high fever. I took him to a clinic but nobody was there,” she said. “I took him to another clinic but on the way home, he went into convulsions. I rushed to an herbalist but the child died on the way.” Another of her children died of malaria at home after experiencing similar symptoms.
It is not easy for poor parents like Ms. Anyongubire to seek and obtain appropriate medical treatment for their children in a timely manner, especially in rural villages. Prevention is the key to reducing the number of malaria deaths.
Proper use of insecticide-treated bednets, for example, can reduce about 20 per cent of all child deaths.
Community volunteers raise awareness
To spread that message, Ghanaian community health volunteer Robert Azerko makes house visits on a blue bicycle provided by UNICEF. With a focus on reaching pregnant women, he explains the importance of sleeping under a bednet to prevent malaria.
The visits are critical because some people don’t believe malaria is transmitted through mosquitoes. Others don’t like to sleep under the nets because they feel uncomfortable or too hot, or have trouble hanging them up.
Hundreds of volunteers like Mr. Azerko are working to promote appropriate behaviours that will prevent malaria in their communities.
Nets for 400,000 children and women
With more than $3 million in funding from the people and the Government of Japan since 2004, UNICEF supports the Ghana Health Service’s provision of bednets to children and pregnant women.
“Reduction of child mortality is a priority for Japan’s official development aid,” said His Excellency Masamichi Ishikawa, Japan’s Ambassador to Ghana. “The people and the Government of Japan are committed to support Ghana’s efforts in malaria prevention.”
Japan has contributed over $1 million this year to purchase long-lasting bednets that will protect approximately 400,000 young children and women from the disease.
In November, the nets will be distributed as part of the country’s Integrated Maternal and Child Health Campaign, an initiative led by the Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service.
Support from development partners
“This campaign will not only provide lifesaving bednets to young Ghanaian children and pregnant women but will also provide oral polio vaccine, vitamin A supplements and deworming medication,” explained UNICEF’s Representative in Ghana, Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque.
“Such efforts are supported by a number of partners, including the Government of Japan, DFID [the UK Department for International Development], USAID and other development partners,” she added.
“In the Upper East Region, the use of the nets is between 26 and 29 per cent, which is still low,” said UNICEF Ghana Health Officer Felicia Mahama. “Our main challenge here is communication on the use of bednets.”
UNICEF: Daily Glance Story site
Video on story from Dailymotion