The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) began to deliver one million life-saving bed nets across the national territory, and kicked off a vast awareness campaign to help communities combat the deadly mosquito-borne disease.
“Insecticide-treated bed nets are the most powerful barrier against malaria. In remote areas, bed nets can simply mean the difference between life and death,” says the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Guinea-Bissau, Gana Fofang.
Financed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the USD 5.8 million effort is expected to further reduce the number of malaria-induced deaths, which had already declined from 1,400 per year in 2003 to 400 in 2012. Around 47 percent of the deaths occur among children below the age of five.
Usable for a period of three years, the nets repel or kill mosquitoes that come into contact with the mesh. They have been shown to avert around 50 percent of malaria cases.
As part of the campaign, 2,100 volunteers visited up to 500,000 households across the country’s 11 regions, informing them of the distribution, as well as explaining to families how the nets should be set up.
Messages will air for two weeks on 24 radio stations and on national television, while telecom operators Orange and MTN will send text messages out to individual subscribers. The effort is coinciding with the launch by Ivorian football star Didier Drogba of an animated video that tells the story of his early life in a malaria-endemic country and calls attention to the disease.
UNDP led the census, registered targeted households, purchased the nets, hired local companies to transport them and will work with nurses and volunteers to distribute them in 1,600 locations. Trained by UNDP, the volunteers will return to the households to make sure the bed nets are properly being used.
Thanks to the programme, malaria testing will take place across the national territory for the next year and provide heavily subsidized medication for women, men and children who test positive.
Partners in the effort include Guinea-Bissau’s Ministry of Health, the country’s national anti-malaria programme (PNLP), the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea Bissau (UNIOGBIS), the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), UN Volunteers, the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Red Cross, MTN, Orange, and the Bank of West Africa (BAO).
Guinea-Bissau has among the world’s lowest human development indicators, with a life expectancy of 48.6 years and only 2.3 mean years of schooling per inhabitant.