Kenya nearly halves child deaths from malaria
|Published: Friday, 17 August, 2007, 01:27 AM Doha Time
NAIROBI: Kenya announced yesterday that it almost halved malaria deaths among small children by using insecticidal nets (INTs), spurring the World Health Organisation (WHO) to advocate free nets for all as it tackles Africa’s deadliest disease.
Health Minister Charity Ngilu said distribution of 13.4mn INTs over the past five years among children and pregnant women had helped curtail infections, a key success against a disease threatening 40% of the world’s population.
“Childhood deaths have been reduced by 44% in high-risk districts, in-patient malaria cases and deaths are falling (and) there are reduced cases at the community level,” she said in a statement.
“For every 1,000 treated nets used, seven children who might have died of malaria are saved.”
Malaria kills 34,000 children under the age of five each year in Kenya, and threatens the lives of more than 25mn of its population of 34mn people, the ministry said.
Children sleeping under INTs in malaria risk areas are 44% less likely to die than those who are not, according to a survey carried out in four districts representing the country’s epidemiological pattern.
The government has distributed 12mn doses of artemisinin-based therapy (ACT), the latest surefire anti-malaria drug cocktail to replace the mono-therapies that had developed resistance.
In addition, some 824,600 houses in 16 epidemic-prone districts underwent indoor spraying this year.
The government and donors spent 4.7bn shillings ($70.2mn) for the campaign, yet the funds were not enough.
Ngilu said the government would freely provide 2mn treated nets annually to ward off mosquitoes at night when they are active, calling on donors to boost the blanket distribution.
“The impact we have seen and the lessons we have learnt through massively distributing INTs, rather than selectively marketing and selling them, will not only benefit Kenya’s children but all Africa’s children,” she said.
In a statement, the WHO said it had abandoned its earlier guideline of targeting only vulnerable groups – under fives and pregnant women – in favour of “making their protection immediate while achieving full coverage”.
“Recent studies have shown that by expanding the use of these nets to all people in targeted areas, increased coverage and enhanced protection can be achieved while protecting all community members.”
WHO chief Margaret Chan said that Kenya’s success “serves as a model that should be replicated throughout ‘malarious’ countries in Africa.”
“This data from Kenya ends the debate about how to deliver the long-lasting nets. No longer should the safety or well-being of your family be based upon whether you are rich or poor,” said WHO’s Global Malaria Programme director Arata Kochi.
Chan and Kochi were deriding the “social marketing” model widely backed by donors of distributing INTs by selling them at subsidised rates, even to vulnerable groups, and raising awareness of their importance.
Although supporting anti-malaria campaigns, public health watchers have chided British and US foreign development agencies for pushing for social marketing in the world’s poorest continent.
The WHO launched a global programme in 1955 to eradicate the disease that has frustrated attempts to create a vaccine owing to its constant mutations.
Using dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), a powerful insecticide, and the drug chroloquine, the organisation managed to eradicated the disease in the West by the 1960s.
But the programme never got off the ground in the humid and low-lying tropics in sub-Saharan Africa where the disease persisted.
By 1969, the programme collapsed as financing withered in the face of rising poverty, political upheavals and surging opposition to DDT for misuse, not by anti-malaria campaigners, but farmers.
But Kochi said the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants allowed the use of DDT in endemic countries for “public health only” and Uganda and Malawi were the only African nations keen on the chemical.
Malaria affects more than 1bn people worldwide and kills 1mn – mainly under age five – every year, the vast majority in sub-Saharan Africa. – AFP (Agence France Press) Read the rest of this entry »