KCM Steps Up Efforts to Fight Malaria in Communities

Nebert Mulenga | 14 Feb 2006

The plotting and storyline for all the sketches and plays was the same.

In everything, including the songs sang at the Konkola Copper Mines (KCM)'s anti-malaria prize-giving day held in Nampundwe recently, the message was apt and to the point.

It all evolved around a community that did not take good care of its surroundings and environment. And when malaria started killing the people, suspicions of witchcraft became rampant until a medical doctor certified the deaths after postmortems, as having been caused by malaria.

However comical such an illustration could have been, it represents the general situation on the ground with regard to most people's attitude towards maintaining clean surroundings as the frontline in malaria prevention.

Although malaria is an easily preventable disease, it has continued to be the worst health nightmare of tropical regions, costing governments fortunes .

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that African governments spend up to US$12 billion on handling malaria cases every year, though the disease could be prevented at just a small fraction of such a colossal amount.

In Zambia, the ministry of Health says over 3.5 million cases of malaria are recorded in health institutions every year with roughly 50,000 of such cases resulting in deaths.

Experts say most malaria cases in the country stem from people's failure to observe the basic standards of hygiene in their surroundings, which later become breeding grounds for the malaria parasite-carrying mosquitoes.

This is why despite Zambia being party to many international agreements seeking to eradicate malaria such as the 2000 Abuja Roll Back Malaria Declaration, the disease still accounts for much of the outpatient admissions in all health institutions.

As for the corporate world, rampant cases of malaria lead to huge costs and losses of profits due to deaths, employee absenteeism and ultimate low productivity.

It is against such a backdrop that KCM introduced the malaria control programme in its operational towns at the time of taking over business from the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) in 2000.

Now running in Chililabombwe, Chingola, parts of Kitwe and Kalulushi as well as Nampundwe, the programme involves the annual residual spraying of all the houses within a 10 kilometre radius of the operational areas as well as Dambo clearing and treatment of malaria cases.

KCM vice-president for corporate relations, Augustine Seyuba said over US$ 1 million has been spent on the malaria control programme, which covers an annual average of 36,000 households translating to about 500,000 people.

"In 2000, our company was experiencing high employee malaria incidences. But we are now happy that because of the vigorous campaign, we have observed a reduction in the incidences of malaria by over 70 per cent and in the last three years, there has been no malaria death in KCM hospitals," said Mr Seyuba.

"Malaria cases among our employees have reduced by more than 50 per cent, resulting in the reduction of sickness-induced absenteeism and therefore, leading to improved production. Our long term goal is to positively contribute to the eradication of malaria in the towns in which we operate."

The Garden and House competition for which some deserving Nampundwe residents were recently awarded for maintaining clean surroundings at their homes, was only introduced last year as a way of enhancing community participation and encouraging community education. All the previous efforts were just implemented by the company with minimal, or no participation of the benefiting communities.

The competition, which has so far run in Chililabombwe with Chingola and Kitwe still under implementation, aims at encouraging appropriate maintenance of gardens and homes in order to control mosquito breeding, considering that mosquitoes multiply easily in dirty environments.

And since it will now be running once every year and attracting free participation of all households in the mining firm's operational areas, whether mine or non-mine employees, the competition is also expected to serve as an effective tool of promoting community health education.

To ensure successful implementation of the programme, KCM works in collaboration with various organisations such as the National Malaria Control Centre, Environmental Council of Zambia, World Health Organisation, district health management teams and local authorities.

Mumbwa District Commissioner, Frazer Shaputu, who graced the Nampundwe event that was also attended by Senior Chief Shakumbila of Mumbwa district, observed that involving the community in the programme would guarantee its successful implementation.

In thanking KCM for introducing the initiative, Mr Shaputu said the garden and house competition had the potential of contributing significantly to the government's efforts to halve the number of malaria cases by 2010.

"The community is an essential and integral component of any community-based programme. Initiatives that have the support of the community in which they are implemented, stand a higher chance of being successful than those that do not," said the district commissioner.

With full community participation and support, any initiative would be sustained over a longer period of time and is less likely to falter in case of economic constraints. Likewise, the KCM programme, by virtue of involving the communities, is expected to enhance productivity as well as promote sustainable economic growth at both company and community levels.

In the long run, this is likely to lead to improved living standards of the people in such communities as good health of the employees is a prerequisite for sustainable economic growth.

"Meaningful economic growth is not attainable without a health population to provide a resource pool of skilled and unskilled labour to drive development. Research has shown that malaria retards national economic development in many ways," added Mr Shaputu.

And Nampundwe Ward 1 councillor, Mubita Lubinda lauded the mining company for the project, which he described as a timely effort saying it would help promote a malaria-free Nampundwe area.

By ensuring that the residents are well-informed on all health matters and take an active role in improving their own health, KCM is fulfilling a corporate social responsibility which has been lacking in many investors.

Mr Lubinda disclosed that malaria was a major health problem accounting for much of the cases at the local clinic of the small mining area which is renowned for containing rich deposits of pyrite.

"This programme has come at the right time when we are having a big problem dealing with malaria cases because of being surrounded by a huge sugar plantation, Kafue Consolidated Sugar which is a rich breeding ground for mosquitoes. With this initiative, I am very confident that malaria will soon be a rare illness in Nampundwe," said the ward councillor.

Winners in the competition that was divided in three sections, were awarded various prizes including cash money and household properties like wheelbarrows, slashers, rakes and Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs).

One of the winners, Rose Mumba of house number 31 Circuit, who scooped the first prize of K1 million, a wheelbarrow, shovel, slasher and an ITN, said the competition was motivating people to maintain clean surroundings throughout the year.

Another winner, Derrick Kamenshi of house number 46 Circuit, who came out second best with K700,000, a shovel, grass slasher and an ITN, said the programme should be emulated by all investors in the country in order to promote the good health of Zambians.

"Looking at the number of us who entered for this competition, I can say this programme has encouraged all Nampundwe residents including non-mine employees to maintain high standards of hygiene. Other companies should learn from KCM and introduce similar programmes in their operational areas," said Mr Kamenshi.

And so, like Mr Kamenshi rightly observed, the onus is now on other corporate entities to pluck a leaf from the KCM programme and also begin to fulfill their social responsibilities in their areas of operation.