By Katherine Mueller, IFRC
Mtiki is 13 months old. For most of his life he has been sick, in and out of hospitals, health care clinics, and doctors’ offices. Mtiki was born in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in northwestern Tanzania, a place where malaria is the number one killer.
Malaria is the reason why Mtiki is currently in the hospital.
“Mtiki is always getting sick with fever and malaria symptoms,” says Chakuwa Suidi, his 18-year-old mother. “The last time he had malaria, he was so sick he needed a blood transfusion. He has lost weight and now suffers from severe malnutrition. I worry so much about him, I cannot sleep.”
At 13 months, Mtiki should weigh around 10.5 kilograms. He weighs half of that.
Cases like Mtiki’s are all too common in Nyarugusu camp. In the first four months of 2013, more than 11,000 cases of malaria were reported in a population of just over 68,000. New mothers, pregnant women and children under five are most at risk. Some families have a mosquito net. , Cahkuwa does, but it is old and full of holes, and so is no match for disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Although malaria is preventable and treatable, it continues to kill nearly 700,000 people every year and Tanzania is one of the worst affected countries in Africa alongside Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Mozambique and Cote d’Ivoire. These six countries account for an estimated 103 million (47 per cent) cases in Africa.
“Bed nets are available within the Kigoma region, either for sale at subsidized prices, or the government distributes them to vulnerable populations for free,” says Dr George Nangale, President of the Tanzania Red Cross National Society. “However, refugees do not have access to bed nets as they are not included in national malaria control projects.”
As the lead health care provider in the camp, the Red Cross is collaborating with the government to provide a long lasting insecticide-treated net to every person living there, following guidelines for universal coverage set by the World Health Organization, they are distributing one net for every two people.
More than 110 volunteers will fan out across the camp, handing out nets to refugees. Joel Kambale is one such volunteer. A refugee himself, from Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kambale became a Red Cross volunteer five years ago so he could give back after receiving assistance from the organization while fleeing conflict in his home country. “I have received some training from the Red Cross since arriving here at the camp, and volunteer my time sharing health messages with my neighbours,” says Kambale, a 42-year-old father of two. “Malaria, how to prevent it and how to treat it are part of the messages I deliver to fellow refugees.”
Volunteers like Kambale will follow up the distribution of bed nets with house visits and education campaigns to ensure the nets are being used correctly every night.
“I am thankful to be receiving a new net,” says Cahkuwa. “I want to have another baby, but I want to make sure it is healthy and can grow up to be strong. With a bed net, there is a better chance of that happening.”