The United Nations is reporting that malaria has dropped from being the leading cause of death among refugees living along the Sudan border. Among the locations where the new malaria-reducing strategies are being employed is the Kakuma Camp for Sudanese refugees in northern Kenya.
Not long ago, malaria killed more Sudanese refugees than any other disease. But now, while it is still deadly, the U.N. reports it is only the fifth leading cause of death among the estimated 38,000 Sudanese refugees living in the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya.
The reason - a five-year campaign called Nothing But Nets run by The United Nations Foundation. Nothing But Nets is the largest grassroots campaign in the world and it hopes to end malaria deaths by 2015.
Now, Nothing But Nets has launched an emergency appeal to send 100,000 life-saving bed nets to help thousands of South Sudanese refugees fleeing conflict and violence along the Sudan border.
Thirty-seven-year-old Achol Deng is a mother of three from Jonglei state. She is among thousands of new arrivals in the Kakuma refugee camp. Deng received mosquito nets that she will need to save her young family during the rainy season.
Deng says the mosquito net she received will protect her children if she uses it the way she was instructed. She says she hopes because of the net, her family will be free from malaria.
Refugees free from the disease are what malaria campaigners, partners, and supporters want to see as they make a two-day visit to the Kakuma refugee camp to distribute mosquito nets.
Chris Helfrich is the Director of the U.N. Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign. On a recent visit to the Kakuma camp he says life is tough enough for refugees, and they should not have to worry about dying from malaria.
“It’s a tough situation here in Kakuma, obviously, but we are happy to bring hope and do a little of something; these people, they have very tough lives but we are happy to bring nets because with everything else they have to deal with, malaria shouldn’t be one of them.”
The Nothing But Nets campaign was started after American sports journalist Rick Reilly challenged his readers to donate at least $10 to help purchase bed nets. Now, the group raises millions of dollars from hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
Canadian actress Serinda Swan, who is best known for her role in the series “Breakout Kings,” is just one of many celebrities who have joined the campaign.
“We’ve come here to help bring awareness and stop malaria. It’s a killer of a child every 60 seconds in Africa and that’s a statistic that needs to stop. We are here to distribute nets, we here to talk to people, we are here to figure out what is going on in the camp, what can be improved just get their story out....”
While the Nothing But Nets campaign is saving lives, U.N. officials are concerned about a possible wave of new refugees fleeing violence between Sudan and South Sudan. Chris Helfrich of the U.N. Foundation says the Nothing But Nets campaign will continue as long as needed.
“We will continue raising money from Americans working tirelessly to try to save nets. We are committed to making sure that every refugee in Kakuma and across the continent has a net over their heads to keep them safe from malaria. We are not going away; we are going to stay committed to this.”
With the help of partners at the UN Refugee Agency, the United Nations Foundation's Nothing But Nets campaign has distributed bed nets in more than 20 Sub-Saharan countries, helping to cut malaria deaths by one-third within the last decade, according to the World Health Organization.