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West Africans Try Treated Bed Nets, New Drugs to Combat Malaria

As events in Washington mark the U.S. government effort to combat malaria in Africa, West Africans, themselves, are busy applying techniques they were unfamiliar with and trying new drugs. VOA's Nico Colombant reports.

Here near Senegal's Atlantic coastline, in the small suburb, Darou Salam City - population 9,000 - men are being shown for the first time how to treat bed nets.

A local association, called "Jappalente", which means intercommunity help, also sells a kit with a button-sized insecticide tab and chemical for about 10 cents.

Wearing masks and plastic gloves, women are taught how to pound the tablet and mix it with the chemical and half a liter of water. They then pour the solution and massage it into colorful bed nets they bring, before laying them out to dry.

Speaking in the local Wolof language, Asdou Sene says insecticide-treated bed nets will make the community much safer. She says women are surprised at how easy and cheap it is to do themselves.

Looking on, local nurse Guidiadie Saw is also impressed.

He says the more people learn this technique, the better. Nearly three-quarters of disease-related hospital visits in the area are attributed to malaria.

A quarter of hospital deaths in Senegal are caused by the mosquito-borne disease, which also accounts for 28 percent of child deaths, according to recent estimates.

The cost of the kit being sold here is subsidized by the U.S. government, as part of the President's Malaria Initiative. The targeted programs also include spraying homes and giving preventive treatment to pregnant women, who, with children, are the most vulnerable to malaria.

Countries outside the program are also trying new approaches.

These include nearby Burkina Faso, where World Health Organization help has led to a pilot program called Home Malaria Management.

A recent drug called Coartem is being provided to community clinics, throughout that country for about 20 cents, much lower than its regular cost.

Coartem is a combination therapy that includes artemisinin, a derivative of the sweet wormwood plant that is used in China to treat fever, and has proved highly successful in treating severe cases of malaria.

For many years in West Africa, foreign aid agencies continued to distribute the relatively cheap drug chloroquine to combat malaria, even though it had become largely ineffective because of mosquito resistance.

Back in Senegal, another bed net treatment session is taking place at a community center in Thies. Coumba Faye looks on in awe and tells other women she wishes she had known about this sooner.

She tells them how one of her nine children had to be taken to the hospital because of really bad malaria. She says, if she had known what she knows now, a lot of hardship would have been avoided.