As part of a United Nations campaign to roll back malaria, the U.N. children's fund UNICEF is distributing insecticide-treated bed nets to tens of thousands of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
UNICEF says malaria kills one million children a year - one child every 30 seconds. The great majority of malaria infections and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. It is, for example, the number one cause of death in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
UNICEF says malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is easily preventable, such as by using insecticide-treated bed nets. According to recent studies, sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net reduced malaria deaths by 25 percent in Gambia, 17 percent in Ghana and 33 percent in Kenya.
Over the coming weeks and months, the children's agency says it will be distributing insecticide-treated bed nets to almost 160,000 people in the zone of Kikimi, located on the outskirts of Congo's capital, Kinshasa.
UNICEF spokeswoman Wivina Belmonte says the program in Kikimi is part of a wider effort by UNICEF to reach hundreds of thousands of people in seven zones of Congo. "We are managing this week to get to several thousand households in the Kikimi area, trying to reach 60 percent of the children under five and pregnant women so that they might sleep inside treated tents," she said. "Part of the program is not only giving them treated tents but showing them how to use it, how to install it."
When properly used, Ms. Belmonte says, treated bed nets can reduce the risk of malaria transmission by as much as 63 percent. She says sleeping under a bed net also reduces cases of anemia in children. But despite the role bed nets play in preventing disease, UNICEF officials say they are rarely used in regions where malaria is common. It is estimated that 10 percent or less of children or pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa regularly sleep under bed nets.
Ms. Belmonte says the entire cost of the bed net distribution campaign is $500,000. To date, she says, the agency has only received one-fifth that amount.