In an effort to save more Kenyan children from malaria, the country will on Saturday embark on the first phase of a massive campaign to increase the number of children sleeping under nets treated with insecticide.
Malaria is the leading cause of death among children under the age of five in Kenya, accounting for about 25 percent of all deaths in that age group, or 34,000 lives every year.
During the malaria prevention campaign, financed by the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, about 1.7 million bed nets will be distributed next week. An equal number will be given out during the second phase of the project in August, the Global Fund said in a statement.
The use of the bed nets is expected to prevent the deaths of thousands of children over the next three years, according to the Fund. The nets distribution project, financed with part of a US $82 million grant, will go hand-in-hand with other essential health programmes, including measles and polio vaccination, the provision of vitamin A and de-worming medicine.
At present, only 25 percent of Kenyan children sleep under long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets, a proven, cost-effective method of preventing malaria infection. The campaign is aimed at raising that number to more than 70 percent.
"This joint campaign is an important addition to our armoury in the fight against malaria," said Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund. "We have bed nets and other tools that can drive back malaria and, through the Global Fund, we have the funding to purchase them. This campaign is an example of the innovative solutions that are now being used to get those life-saving tools to the people who need them most."
The distribution of bed nets represents only one element of Kenya's efforts to control malaria.
The country is also shifting to using artemisinin-based combination therapies, which are more effective against malaria, but cost more. The decision to change treatment has become necessary because of increasing resistance by the malaria parasite to chloroquine and other drugs.
This move is also supported by the Global Fund grant, which is financing the purchase and distribution of the new drugs and training health workers on their proper use.