The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies begins distributing 2,030,000 long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets in Niger on Monday (19 December 2005) in an effort to protect 3.5 million children from malaria.
In parallel to a government polio vaccination campaign, every household where young children are vaccinated will be given a long-lasting insecticidal net. The aim of the Federation programme is to give a net to every child under five. Young children are especially at risk from malaria.
“As far as we know, this is the largest distribution of mosquito nets ever undertaken,” said International Federation Secretary General Markku Niskala. “We urgently need to reverse the tragic situation in Niger where one child in four does not reach her or his fifth birthday, and where half the deaths among children under five are from malaria,” he underlined.
Jean Roy, senior public health officer at the International Federation Secretariat, in Geneva, explained the programme was patterned after the successful distribution of nearly one million nets during a measles campaign in Togo in 2004.
“These mosquito nets are vital and we estimate that they will save the lives of 40,000 children in Niger in the first year alone,” noted Jean Roy.
The role of 3,850 Red Cross volunteers and other community workers is vital to the success of the campaign, according to Niger Red Cross President Ali Bandiare, because they are able to access even the remotest villages. “They are trained to explain to families how malaria is transmitted, how important it is to use the nets, and how to hang them correctly.”
The International Federation is one of several organizations supporting the project, which is coordinated by the Niger Ministry of Health, with partners such as the Niger Red Cross and the Centre for Medical Research in Niamey.
The programme is funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (USD 11 million), the Canadian International Development Agency through the Canadian Red Cross (USD 2 million) and the International Federation’s malaria initiative.
In addition, the programme has the support of the Measles Partnership, the Polio Eradication Programme and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership. These three networks include the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the International Federation, NGOs and other organizations, which are jointly tackling Africa’s biggest public health challenges.
Programmes like these in Togo and Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, play a vital role in achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goal to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015. The programme complements the International Federation’s progress on addressing food shortages in Niger, including feeding centres for children, water and sanitation projects, and health education.