Geraldine Ryerson-Cruz, +1.202.615.2608
Johannesburg, October 12, 2009—Amid promising international steps in fighting malaria, aid group World Vision is urging the humanitarian community today to pay close attention to the way protective bed nets are being distributed in vulnerable countries, to maximize their impact against the disease.
Signs of progress from increased anti-malaria efforts include a decline in overall global deaths of children under five, as measured by UNICEF, from 9.2 million to 8.8 million children each year, attributed partly to more mosquito-net distribution in vulnerable areas. More recently, 20 African heads of state formed the African Leaders Malaria Alliance during United Nations meetings last month, with a goal of eliminating deaths from malaria by 2015 in Africa, the most-affected continent.
World Vision will begin a large-scale household distribution of bed nets in Zambia this week as part of a two-year initiative to provide 3 million insecticide-treated bed nets to protect some 6 million people at risk of malaria in Zambia, Kenya, Mozambique and Mali.
“A pickup in efforts to get more bed nets to hard-hit places has proven to be an encouraging start, but achieving the goal of stopping deaths means we must ensure efforts to combat malaria are doing the most good possible,” said Craig Jaggers, World Vision’s policy advisor for health. “We know that delivering bed nets at the household level, with follow-up by trained caregivers, raises the likelihood they’ll be used well and save lives.”
When families must collect bed nets at a central location, there is a higher possibility of misuse. By contrast, community health workers or caregivers visiting homes can teach users how to avoid tears in their bed nets so they will last longer. Through education and example, they help address some of the misunderstandings or social obstacles to routine use of a net.
Jaggers noted an example: “I’ve seen a local health volunteer working to convince mothers worried about bed bugs that it is actually mosquitoes that pose a deadly threat to their children. With the volunteer’s help, those mothers learned to hang bed nets properly rather than use them to seal mattresses from bed bugs.”
“A bed net’s protectiveness from malarial mosquitoes is limited if it isn’t properly used or maintained,” said Jaggers. “To have a long-lasting impact, there must also be community-wide coverage.”
The Christian humanitarian organization urges programs fighting malaria to emphasize grassroots, community distributions of bed nets within national and global plans. A World Vision analysis earlier this year highlighted a marked decrease in the disease when at least 80 percent of a community’s households were covered with insecticide-treated bed nets, and community leaders and volunteers were mobilized to educate, follow up and ensure participation in bed net usage.
In Zambia starting this week, thousands of community health volunteers trained by World Vision and others will distribute 133,000 long-lasting insecticidal nets. The effort will reach out to all in the remote communities, not only those most vulnerable to the disease, such as children under five years and pregnant women. The workers help instruct recipients on installation, use and maintenance. This universal coverage approach has proven to be highly effective in preventing the disease and related child deaths.
World Vision is a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to helping children and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty. We serve the world’s poor — regardless of a person’s religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. For more information, please visit www.worldvision.org/press.