Gambia: the Red Cross distributes mosquito nets to protect children and pregnant women from malaria

Published: 28 January 2008 0:00 CET

Moustapha Diallo, International Federation, in Gambia

Beyond a row of baobab trees, a few dozen kilometres north of the Gambia River along winding roads, stands Kinteh Kunda Marong Kunda, a peaceful town with around a thousand inhabitants. On this hot day in January, a heavy silence hangs over the place. Only the shouts of children engaged in a game of hide-and-seek break the stillness from time to time.

Natomah Kinteh, a young mother of nineteen nurses her daughter, Mariamah Traoreh, who has just turned one, in her bedroom. A mosquito net with several holes in it hangs over the bed.

“We are often kept awake all night by the mosquitoes that get through the holes in the net. I worry that my daughter will catch malaria,” she explains with concern in her voice.

Natomah Traoreh suffered a bout of malaria last year, which almost claimed her life. She is therefore well aware that this disease could be fatal for her daughter.

In Gambia, as in most of the Sahelian countries, malaria is the leading cause of death among children under five and pregnant women. It is also the main reason for medical consultation.

Although mosquito nets are considered one of the best ways of preventing malaria, they remain inaccessible to many needy families. A mosquito net costs around GMD 750 (EUR 25), a price that many cannot afford, and people in Kinteh Kunda Marong Kunda have to go to one of the big cities or to Ker Pathey, a village that is some ten kilometres away, in order to purchase this vital item.

The inhabitants of the area were therefore overjoyed with the mosquito nets given to them by the Gambia Red Cross Society, a godsend for Natomah Kinteh and her daughter. Thanks to this assistance, they will now be able to sleep in peace, protected from the mosquitoes that could give them malaria.

Natomah Kinteh and her daughter Mariamah Traorey are just two of the thousands of beneficiaries of the campaign to distribute mosquito nets carried out by the Gambia Red Cross Society, with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and WSM (World Swim against Malaria).

The campaign was officially launched on 15 January of this year by the Ministry of Health and involved distributing over 6,000 impregnated mosquito nets to pregnant women and children under five years of age over five days in the region north of the Gambia River. More than forty volunteers assisted by nurses distributed the nets.

“The volunteers carried out a door-to-door campaign to talk to people living in the northern region about the causes of malaria and how to prevent it, stressing the importance of using mosquito nets properly,” explains Katim Tourey, head of the Health Programme of the Gambia Red Cross Society.

The region located to the north of the Gambia River is a rural area inhabited by a largely agricultural population. It has one of the highest incidence rates of malaria in Gambia, owing to irrigation works and numerous bodies of stagnant water, which provide an ideal breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

This area therefore has an enormous need for impregnated mosquito nets. The next challenge will be to ensure that the mosquito nets are used properly and extend the distribution to people who did not receive these precious items during this campaign.

“This is a gap that the government will try to bridge with the support of its partners,” remarks Baabah Njaay, the regional representative of the Health Ministry, going on to praise the work carried out by the Gambia Red Cross Society.

“The mosquito nets distributed by the Gambia Red Cross Society will contribute significantly to reducing morbidity and mortality from malaria in the country,” he concludes.

The Gambia Red Cross Society was also active in the recent November – December measles campaign, supported by the Measles Initiative. Over 230 volunteers in seven regions helped to reach 324,526 children for vaccination. Social mobilization activities by the national society included press briefings, district level sensitization, broadcast of radio jingles, in addition to the house to house outreach that occurred during the one week campaign. GRCS volunteers also helped at vaccination sites recording vaccination registrees and helping to administer Vitamin A and de-worming tablets. Volunteers were able to reach 65% of the target population, particularly in the rural and more hard to reach areas.