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Zoro Malaria campaign saving lives in rural Sierra Leone

By Mohamed Konneh

It’s a very early Wednesday morning here at Gbongboma village outside Bo city in Southern Sierra Leone. As the sun rises, young energetic men with farming tools are seen walking to their farms lands, while women moving around some following their men to the farms while others are busy with domestic work. Also along the village square a set of women are also seen making visitation to the health posts some with their sick babies others reaching the post for routine visit.

Wednesday of every week is known as clinic day and on this day pregnant women are mostly visitors to this health post. The Gbongboma health post also attends to sick babies some of whom go for marklate others for normal medication.

Two-year-old Braima Moses has just receives anti-malaria medicines from the Health post nurse in this remote village. The malaria treatment given here is part of medication and ongoing campaign to beat malaria out of Sierra Leone.

Following malaria campaign dubbed as “Zero Malaria Starts with me” the country has been making progress in all fronts. The Zero Malaria campaign is designed to remind people across the world that they have the power and personal responsibility to take actions that will protect families and communities from malaria and the importance of holding governments to account.

This is exactly what is been manifested here and in most rural communities. The people of Gbongboma village are now taking action by regularly visiting the health post and also sleeping under long lasting treated bed nets.

Sierra Leone has achieved vast declines in malaria deaths between 2015 and 2019. This is linked to a range of interventions, including increased availability of diagnostic tests, free treatments and mass distribution of insecticide treated nets (ITNs).

In Bo district the number of malaria cases and deaths has subsided more so among young children. Speak Up Africa in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and the media continue to champion malaria activities aimed at rapidly reducing the malaria burden among the populace but more so among children.

Professor Alpha Wurie is Sierra Leone Minister of Health and Sanitation and has been speaking on the effort of government in reducing malaria burden in the country.

He said major disease like malaria can fall into a blind spot in the context of a humanitarian crisis such as the corona. That was the case during the Ebola epidemic where, in many affected countries, malaria killed far more people than Ebola itself.

“We have learnt our lesson from the Ebola outbreak and during Corona virus pandemic we continue to supply drugs as well as equipping the Peripheral Health Unit (PHUs) in rural communities to respond to cases of malaria and other illnesses. Malaria is more prevalence in our rural communities and the more reason we continue to pay greater attention to health clinics as they are the first point of contact for all malaria related cases in rural communities.

In 2019 health authorities were reporting about 50% of all deaths related to malaria cases. These reports have been confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Based on confirmed data the government of Sierra Leone in early 2020 distributed over four million six hundred long lasting treated bed nets across the country.

Sierra Leone, with a population of over 7 million, is a high burden country in which the entire population is at risk of malaria and with pregnant women and children under five years being the most vulnerable. Malaria remains one of the prime causes of deaths among children and the biggest cause for medical consultations and hospitalisations.

Over the past two decades, the National Malaria Control Programme of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in collaboration with partners have done substantial work to dramatically prevent and control the disease, and that progress is tangible and visible in communities.

With the cooperation and support of international partners, the Global Fund and PMI /USAID financed the procurement and delivery of 4,601,418 Piperonyl butoxide (PBO) Long Lasting Insecticide treated bed nets as part of Zero malaria campaign.

Actions for this campaign include: preventing malaria through the use of bed nets and by spraying insecticides on the inside walls of shelters; treating malaria by expanding access to health facilities, and improving data collection through strengthened surveillance systems.

This approach is already working and reducing malaria mortality and morbidity in rural communities and complex emergency settings.

Mano Moses is a regular visitor to the Gbongboma health post along the Bo Highway. She now uses the treated bed nets supplied to her to prevent herself and her family from malaria.

“I was having frequent malaria and was always hospitalized for malaria. The use of bed nets was not frequent because of the heat at night. But after I was adviced by nurses that the bed net will protect me from malaria, I now used it every night, she said.

The young mother said the entire village now uses treated bed nets. Despite malaria has not gone away the burden is reducing in most rural communities.

“Getting sick with malaria all the time is no longer part of me, she said.”

Through the Zero Malaria campaign, children in targeted areas including adults receive monthly rounds of anti-malaria medicines and treatment for free.

This campaign is similar to other programmatic approach recommended by WHO in Africa’s Sahel sub-region known as seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC).

Sierra Leone has committed to reducing new malaria infections by 40 percent by 2020.Towards the ultimate goal of malaria eradication, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone has committed to reducing new cases of the disease by 40 percent by 2020. This will require concerted actions from government, partners, health staff and communities to ensure uptake of preventive measures and timely treatment for all.

Zero Malaria Starts with Me is a pan-African campaign that mobilizes and empowers communities to take ownership over the fight to end malaria. The campaign drives action from political, private sector and community leaders to accelerate malaria prevention and treatment and save lives.

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