Ethiopia: Fighting malaria in Oromiya

20 Feb 2007
Reuters Foundation Alert Net
ADDIS ABABA, 20 February (IRIN) - The dozens of Ethiopian women gathered at Birbissa Doloma health-centre in Oromiya had brought their children to be immunised against measles. They also went home with a mosquito net.

"Of the 27 million people living in Oromiya state, 18 million are at risk of malaria infection," Zenebech Yadete, deputy head of Oromiya Health Bureau, said.

"Between 1.5 and two million cases are reported each year in our clinical facilities," she added. "Malaria accounts for 24 percent of total morbidity in the region and is the first cause of hospitalisation for children under 14."

Like many other Oromiya villages, Birbissa Doloma lies in a malaria-endemic area west of the capital, Addis Ababa - which prompted the decision to provide free impregnated mosquito nets to the women. Supported by donors, the Ethiopian government programme aims to provide nets to an estimated 50 million people before the end of 2007.

"The demand for those nets is twice the supply. It is very important because it shows that sensitisation is working among the women," the Canadian Ambassador in Ethiopia, Yves Boulanger, explained. Canada, Japan, the World Bank and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), are helping to fund the programme.

Last week, former United States President Jimmy Carter said in Addis Ababa that his non-governmental organisation, the Carter Center, would provide three million bed nets out of the 20 million required for the full implementation of the programme.

"The total cost to the Carter Center of three million bed nets and seven years of monitoring the process is US$47 million," Carter told reporters. "The Center is attempting to raise that money ... Three thousand people died from HIV/AIDS last year in Ethiopia [but] 270,000 died from malaria," he added.

Children most vulnerable

As the women sat on the grass outside the health-centre, the toddlers looked resigned to the vaccine injection. Many were coughing, their noses running. According to health experts, rampant malnutrition in Ethiopia's poor rural areas has provided a fertile ground for infections.

The vaccination against measles is part of a package comprising vitamin A (for healthy eyesight), worm treatment, and a mosquito bed net.

The impregnated mosquito nets could save 70,000 children aged five or younger a year if combined with Coartem, a new drug to cure malaria.

"This drug kills the parasites that cause malaria in the human population, and if people sleep under mosquito nets - [then it] should have a greater impact on malaria," UNICEF project officer for malaria, Rory Nefdt, said.

"The use of this new drug, the roll-out of impregnated nets and the use of indoor insecticide spraying have contributed [to reducing the epidemic]," he added.

Zenebech said population growth, the increased movements of people as seasonal workers are attracted by extensive irrigated agricultural development areas in Oromiya, and increased parasite resistance to the common anti-malarial drugs were responsible for the spread of the disease in the region.