Every year malaria infects thousands of Sierra Leoneans, with children and pregnant women especially vulnerable. A recent national survey shows that, despite high levels of awareness, malaria prevalence among young children is as high as 40 percent, with devastating impacts for families, communities and development.
“Malaria can be both prevented and treated, which makes every malaria-related death even more tragic,” says Janet Kayita, Essential Health Services Coordinator at the World Health Organization in Sierra Leone. “Insecticide treated bed nets are one of the most cost-effective ways of preventing the disease, and we need to work together with Government, partners and communities to ensure that families both have access to and are using the nets every night, everywhere, alongside early treatment seeking behavior at the very first signs of the infection.”
Christy Berewa is a nurse at the Under Five Clinic at Kenema Government Hospital in the east of the country, and regularly treats young children presenting with malaria – often at a late stage when they can be vulnerable to complications. “Although people know and talk about it in communities and among families, malaria regrettably still remains the most common complaint we receive here on a daily basis. Even more up setting is the fact that the disease can be prevented and treated at no major cost, yet it still continues to kill so many children”.
Preventive measures such as improved sanitation and continued and consistent use of the treated nets remain a key focus for malaria interventions. With the pending mass distribution of nets, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation is therefore working with local partners to prevent leakages and misuse of the nets and has recently embarked on a mass awareness campaign to this effect.
“Achieving the full impact of this large scale intervention requires everyone including Government, health professionals, partners, communities, families and individuals to ensure improved preventive measures and timely treatment,” said Dr Samuel Smith, Manager of the National Malaria Control Programme in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.
Towards a commitment to reduce new cases of the disease by 40 percent by 2020, the national bed net distribution campaign is being led by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and supported by a range of partners including the Global Fund, the UK Government, WHO and UNICEF, as well as community and civil society partners