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Mosquito nets protect millions of Congolese children from Malaria

Two million children under five and their families will be among 10 million people to get a free mosquito net for their bed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Free nets have been handed out for months, in a push by the United Nations Children’s fund (UNICEF) and its partners, to give out 5.5 million bed nets to 1.8 million households in Oriental and Maniema provinces. The work in Congo is part of a wider United Nations initiative started last year that aims to provide bed nets to protect against malaria to everyone who needs them by the end of 2010.

In Congo’s Oriental and Maniema provinces, each household (an average of six people), will get three mosquito bed nets in exchange for a ticket given them by a community worker. Congolese children under the age of five suffer at least six bouts of malaria each year, according to estimates. And across the world, every year more than 90,000 children die of malaria. Others are orphaned when their parents die from the illness. Even if it is available, many Congolese people simply can’t afford Malaria treatment. For many people, the best they can do is take their local health centre’s advice to keep their surroundings clean, cover their latrines and sleep under insecticide-treated nets.

At the Umoja Health Centre near the city of Kisangani, whenever a mum arrives with a young child who has a temperature, vomiting, or convulsing, the health workers there can make a safe bet that is likely to be malaria. Four-year-old Cecilia is one of them. Her mother, Florence has anti-malarial drugs by the centre for Cecilia once again. "I am convinced that the mass distribution in the two provinces will contribute to the reduction of child and maternal mortality," said UNICEF’s Congo representative Pierrette Vu Thi. All modes of transport such as planes, boats on the Congo River trains; trucks motorbikes on potholed paths are being used to get the free mosquito nets out to families in these two provinces.  And when they get there, people who have gathered to receive the free nets are delighted. Monauie has four children and she declares that sometimes her son Samuel, 3, gets malaria several times in a month. "We are really very happy to receive these bed nets free of charge,” she said. “I will be able to replace my old nets, which now have holes in them. That is how the mosquitoes get in, bite us and make us ill with malaria.”

Malaria infected more than 240 million people in 2008 and killed an estimated 863,000 people, mostly in Africa, according to figures from Associated Press news agency. 

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children