News / Health

West Africa Charts Progress In Malaria Prevention

Kate Thomas

Millions of mosquito nets are being distributed across West Africa to further increase access to malaria prevention by the end of the year.

Amid growing evidence that increased use of mosquito nets is leading to a reduction in the spread of malaria across West Africa, many countries in the region are implementing large-scale efforts to meet goals set by the Roll Back Malaria initiative, a consortium for coordinated action against the disease.

Pru Smith is from Roll Back Malaria. She said that as part of the consortium's global framework, stepping up net distribution in West African countries is a priority. "The Global Malaria Action Plan is an agreed-upon strategy to first of all make sure that each country that has malaria can scale up its nets and treatment so that the incidence of malaria goes right down," she said.

Smith said that in the past decade, bed net coverage has increased sharply in 11 African countries. Programs led by partners of Roll Back Malaria are under way in countries such as Senegal, which has made a countrywide provision to supply anti-malarial drugs to new mothers.

In Nigeria, distributors working with the consortium are handing out two nets per household across the country. Distributors plan to supply 72 million mosquito nets to households by the end of the year - that's one net for every two people in a country with a population of 144 million.

The United Nations Special Envoy for Malaria, Roy Chambers, said mosquito nets are still the most effective tool for preventing malaria in West Africa. "The two fold benefits are that it protects those sleeping under the net from getting bitten and when the mosquito lands on the net she dies, and that disrupts the Darwinian reproductive cycle," he said.

He said regular use of treated bed nets continues to be a highly effective prevention tool, reducing overall child mortality by as much as 20 percent. "We've had incidences where we've provided bed nets to areas but not the surrounding villages, and after a year the surrounding villages noticed a significant decrease in the incidence of malaria," he said.

But explaining to people how mosquito nets should be used is just as important as distributing them. The Roll Back Malaria consortium has found that in some countries in West Africa, nets distributed for malaria prevention have been used for other purposes, including as fishing nets. "Now the challenge is where the rubber meets the road. That's organizing, scheduling, implementing, coordinating...getting these tools out to all the people and then they're utilizing the tools," he said.

Roll Back Malaria aims to ensure that 80 percent of people in most African countries are sleeping under mosquito nets by the end of 2010. Mass net distributions are also under way in Ghana, Gambia, DR Congo and Equatorial Guinea among other countries.

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