Malawi: Roll back malaria through theatre

Publié: 17 août 2011 11:23 CET

By Tapiwa Gomo in Mwanza

In Malawi, branches of the National Red Cross Society are finding new ways of spreading the message about the importance of bed nets and insecticide in the fight against malaria, a disease that kills almost one million people each year, 90 per cent of them in Africa.

Malaria related health spending and loss of productivity costs Africa’s economy an estimated 12 billion US dollars a year. It accounts for approximately 40% of public health expenditure in sub-Saharan Africa.

Malawi is one of the countries that are hardest hit by malaria. In 2010 there were over six million Malaria cases reported, with 18% of all hospital deaths and 40% of outpatient visits caused by the disease. Children under the age of five and pregnant women are among the worst affected.  

Like most countries in Africa, Malawi is stepping up the fight against malaria. The Malawi Red Cross Society (MRCS), with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), is distributing 120,000 long lasting insecticide treated mosquito nets in Mwanza and Neno districts in the southern part of Malawi.

But the Mwanza branch of MRCS has found that distributing mosquito nets alone may not be enough to curb malaria in a community that is deeply routed into superstitions. A recent survey revealed that just 36% of the households had long lasting insecticide nets, and of those, only half were using them properly.

Dumisani Mfwipa the regional manager for MRCS in Mwanza, says that working with local communities is part of the solution to the problem. “Some of them have become volunteers. They go around distributing mosquito nets, but most importantly, they go out and disseminate information about how to use the mosquito nets properly.”

Often the information includes a performance by a local drama group on how to use tools such as nets most effectively. Today in Moffat village in Mwanza, the community is gathered to watch a play about a man who believes moving around wearing a mosquito net protects him from contracting malaria.

“There was a belief among the communities that if you use mosquito nets, you won’t be able to bear children. And people used to take the mosquito nets and use them for other purposes such as fencing their gardens,” says Dumisani. “Drama performances have helped a lot to demystify myths and misconceptions about the use of mosquito nets.”

Innocent Kasapha, a father of five children, is one of the recipients of four sets of mosquito nets. “When I suffered malaria, I didn’t realise that it was because of mosquito bites until the doctor advised me to use a mosquito net. Initially it was difficult to accept that mosquito nets can help prevent malaria,” he said. But after talking to Red Cross volunteers, we realised the value of sleeping under a net every night.”

Dr. Michael Charles, IFRC’s malaria delegate in southern Africa, says: “The distribution of nets is part of the World Health Organisation’s Roll Back Malaria campaign which targets universal coverage. The initiative encourages all family members to sleep under a mosquito net if the reduction of deaths and illnesses caused by malaria is to be achieved.”

The mosquito net distribution campaign includes training of 500 Red Cross volunteers who live within the communities and are involved with educating the community on how to hang the nets and also assist with health education.  

Since 2002, as a direct result of net distributions carried out by Red Cross Red Crescent Societies, it has been estimated that over 300,000 malaria deaths have been averted, while 18.2 million people have been better protected against malaria.

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