The article below was contributed by journalist Ntaryike Divine Jr. (Douala, Cameroon) as part of the SjCOOP project in collaboration with MalariaWorld.
The government of Cameroon is verging on enacting one of its biggest efforts yet in its protracting battle against malaria, which has obstinately upheld its status as the country’s leading killer disease. Over 8 million treated mosquito nets are due distribution by August ending in the malaria-endemic Central African nation which is home to 20 million inhabitants.
Announcing the move Wednesday 15 June in the capital Yaounde, Public Health Minister, Andre Mama Fouda explained that all governors of Cameroon’s 10 administrative regions will head distribution committees also manned by medics and security officers to ensure maximum coverage of the national territory. Some 4.5 million households would be covered, representing an estimated population of 19 million, he added.
The treated mosquito nets, loaded with insecticides which keep mosquitoes at bay, have been purchased with resources from the Global Fund for the Fight against HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. They are due arrival at the Douala port by the end of June. They each have a five-year lifespan and will be doled out gratis over a period of two weeks.
Malaria is the number one cause of morbidity and mortality across Cameroon. According to the Ministry of Public Health, it is responsible for 35 - 40% deaths in health facilities; 50% morbidity among children below 5 years of age as well as 40 - 45% medical consultations and 30% hospitalizations. Experts add that malaria is prevalent all year round in almost the entire country with the transmission period varying from 7 - 12 months.
They blame ignorance, shabby neighborhood surroundings, apathy around usage of treated bed nets, changing climate as well as difficult access to healthcare in especially the country’s far-flung rural communities.
The massive treated bed nets distribution follows another widely applauded government decision to render treatment of simple malaria in children below five years free. The decision took effect last 1 February, and adds to cuts in the cost of ACTs as well as free treatment for pregnant women.
Between 2006 and 2010, the Ministry of Public Health distributed some 2 million long-lasting treated mosquito nets. Officials however say they noted pockets of reluctance as some people rejected the offer on grounds that sleeping under the nets gave them the feeling of lying in tombs. Elsewhere, rumor held that the nets provoked miscarriages in pregnant women.
And that’s not all. In some cases, people redesigned the nets to use them for fishing, while others transformed them into wedding gowns.
Officials at the Ministry of Public Health say such lapses are being addressed through sensitization in prelude to the upcoming distribution. “We are seizing this opportunity to urge the population to collaborate with us sincerely and frankly. This is for their good and they don’t have to pay a dime. If fallacious declarations emerge again, they could derail the goal of the operation. We are hoping that the presence of the forces of law and order in the distribution committees will help keep away detractors,” Adolphe Lele Lafrique, Governor of the country’s East Region explained.
Other roll-back malaria efforts undertaken in Cameroon include plans to introduce rapid diagnosis tests in which results are available within fifteen minutes. This year alone, the government is planning to fit healthcare facilities nationwide with 800,000 rapid malaria test devices. Elsewhere, a group of researchers from the UK’s Architecture for Health in Vulnerable Environments, ARCHIVE is proposing mosquito-proof housing as additional antidote. The combat strategy is hinged on the premise that screening homes against mosquitoes can significantly slash vulnerability to malaria infection.
These efforts are expected to result in drops in malaria mortality and morbidity in Cameroon. Figures from the National Program for the Fight against Malaria indicate that morbidity stood at 36 percent in 2010, down from 38 percent the year before; while mortality rates fell to 24 percent in 2010 against 29 percent in 2009.
Malaria is transmitted from human to human by the bite of infected bloodthirsty female Anopheles mosquito. In infected humans, the disease-causing Plasmodium parasite multiplies in the liver and then infects red blood cells to provoke fevers, headaches, vomiting and anemia that easily culminate in death if treatment is delayed.
Entomologists estimate the world is inhabited by about 3,000 mosquito species buzzing around and mostly feeding on nectar. However, Anopheles females hanker after human blood to produce eggs. The blood meal provides protein and ensures successful growth for the evolving offspring that usually number about 40-100 and which mature in less than a fortnight to enlarge the world’s population of the bloodsuckers.