Defeating malaria, one of Zambia’s biggest killers

Woman receiving an insecticide-treated mosquito net
8.2 million people across the country received free insecticide-treated mosquito nets. Photo: Moses Zangar, Jr./UNDP in Zambia

Josephine Shaba, 30, experienced first-hand the economic impact of malaria. “When I had malaria, I could not tend to my crops or animals. If we are too sick, we cannot plant and then we don’t have enough food to harvest,” she says.

To pay for her and her children’s treatment, Josephine had to sell some of her livestock and produce even though her harvest barely met the family’s food needs.

Highlights

  • A mass distribution of free mosquito bed nets across Zambia benefits 8.2 million people.
  • The UNDP-Global Fund partnership supports the procurement and delivery of 4.8 million nets to 6 of the country’s 10 provinces.
  • The aim is to reduce malaria incidence by 75% and lower the disease’s mortality rate by 20% by 2015.

Malaria is endemic in Chipungu, Josephine’s village in Zambia’s Eastern province, and continues to be a major health problem for the country. According to the National Malaria Control Centre, malaria accounts for nearly four million clinically diagnosed cases per year in the country, for 36% of hospitalizations and outpatient visits, and for up to 20% of maternal mortality.

To address the issue, the government embarked on a mass distribution of free insecticide-treated mosquito nets, to benefit 8.2 million people across the country.

As part of this 4 months effort started in June 2014, the Global Fund and UNDP support the procurement and delivery of 4.8 million nets to six of the country’s 10 provinces.

So far, the country has received more than 750 million US$ in grants from the Global Fund, which are managed by UNDP with the Ministry of Health. In addition, UNDP has been actively involved with the Government of Zambia and other UN agencies to help the country achieve its target of reducing malaria incidence by 75% and lower the disease mortality rate by 20% by 2015.

“In Africa, malaria is a killer disease. My grandmother died from it. There are 14 people in our household, and we really need these mosquito nets,” says Benjamin Satenda, a beneficiary from the initiative in the Northwestern province.

The biggest impact of the programme so far has been to improve children’s health. Malaria prevalence in children aged under five fell from 16.1% in 2010 to 14.3% in 2012. This also led to an increase in school attendance.

Precious Malungo, an environmental health technologist at the Chipungu Clinic says that she already sees a significant reduction in malaria cases since the distribution of free bed nets. “I think everyone is sleeping under the nets because there are fewer cases of people suffering from malaria these days. The last few years, the rate of malaria incidence in our village was 100 percent.” she said.

Before the distribution campaign started, community health volunteers informed residents countrywide on the proper use and maintenance of the nets, malaria symptoms, treatment, and prevention. The sessions included information on draining and filling stagnant water areas that are breeding sites for mosquitoes.

“While malaria remains a major public health and development challenge in Zambia, a unique opportunity exists to scale up interventions, strengthen systems, and make a major effort to roll back malaria in the country,” says Viola Morgan, UNDP Country Director.

Since the Zambian government embarked on the project, the country appears to be on course to reduce the malaria burden and prevent unnecessary illnesses and potential deaths from malaria. In 2012, around 70% of Zambians owned a bed net and the overall prevalence of the disease had fallen from 22 per cent in 2006 to 15 per cent.

 “My children, my husband and I had malaria twice in a month earlier this year. We haven’t caught it since we started sleeping under the nets,” Josephine says.

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