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Ghana Tries New Techniques to Combat Malaria

Hassana Ousmane rests her head against the bed where her 21-month-old daughter, Zeinab, suffering from malaria, rests at the Princess Marie Louise Children's Hospital in Accra, Ghana, April 25, 2012.
Ghana has adopted new ways of fighting malaria, which is considered the leading cause of death among children under five years old in sub-Saharan Africa. Among the new techniques to raise awareness is making use of notable public figures to sensitize people on prevention, control and treatment of the disease.

The devastating effect of malaria is well-documented. In Ghana it kills 20,000 children every year. Unborn children are not spared. When an infection is not well treated in pregnant women, it can result in anemia, miscarriages, stillbirths and maternal deaths.

Ghana’s National Malaria Control Program is spearheading efforts at managing the disease. The communications officer, Kwame Dzidzorlegapker, said the most effective way of prevention is through use of insecticide-treated nets. More than 12 million nets have been distributed free of charge throughout the country.

Dzidzorlegapker said intensive education is going on to bridge the gap between access to nets and actual use.

“The strategy is very unique because this time we are also hanging the nets. Research has been conducted and we know that based on that, a lot of people cannot hang the net and it has become difficult, so that is why we use that strategy,” he said.

Heroes help in fight

Another intervention known as "United Against Malaria" or UAM, makes use of role models in the fight against the disease. Personalities include football stars, musicians, politicians and traditional rulers. The expectation is that children retain and act on messages delivered by people they recognize as heroes.

Emmanuel Fiagbe supervises activities of the UAM. He also is director of a project known as ‘Voices for Malaria-Free Future."

“We are also using United Against Malaria to bring on board the private sector. Funding for malaria is a critical issue. We cannot rely on donors all the time. We need to develop some capacity of providing some support for ourselves," said Fiagbe.

Businesses also are given roles to play in the "United Against Malaria" program. As partners, they are encouraged to educate employees on ways of preventing the disease. Some companies are going further to spray chemical insecticides on walls and roofs of all houses in particular communities. The practice has brought about significant reduction in malaria cases in the Obuasi Township and surrounding villages.

Using varied tools, financing

Fiagbe said Ghana has secured a financing arrangement with the Global Fund to extend this exercise to 40 districts in the country.

He said the U.S. president's Malaria Initiative also is funding indoor spraying in the whole of the northern region of Ghana.

Other measures focus on early diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Fiagbe said the establishment of some stations, known as Community Health Planning and Services units, ensure easy access to health services.

"Through that process we have a nurse located in an eight-mile radius in many communities who take care of children who have malaria and other diseases. This also has been introduced - what we call rapid diagnostic testing kit. So you can use it to test your own child. You don’t need to go to a facility to do that," he said.

He also said use of rectal medications, which are available over the counter, offer protection to children before they arrive at health facilities for treatment.