In Chad, health experts are battling a malaria epidemic which has caused more than 2,000 deaths so far this year, doubling the mortality rate compared with 2012. Young children are particularly at risk, with the UN’s child agency estimating that around 36% of all malaria cases occur in under-fives.
Speaking to the news agency IRIN, a UNICEF spokesperson in Chad said that there is little public information about how to prevent the disease; for example, only around 1 in 10 young children sleep under insecticide treated bed nets at night. Families also tend to bring their sick children to health centres “quite late”, so it is often a struggle for health workers to treat the illness effectively. Many children also struggle to fight off the disease because they are malnourished.
UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WTO), in conjunction with the government of Chad, have responded to the epidemic by widening the distribution of bed nets, medicines and malnutrition treatment for children under five. In the worst affected areas, the organisations are also trying to reduce fatalities by offering vaccination and malaria drugs.
Low rates of vaccination
Rates of vaccination in Chad are low, even for common childhood diseases. Across the country, around a third of infants are not vaccinated against common illnesses such as measles and diphtheria.
Health experts hope that this situation will improve in future, especially as more low-cost vaccinations are brought onto the market. For example, a medical research facility in Brazil has this week announced plans to produce a low-cost measles and rubella vaccine after receiving a 1 million dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The new vaccine is expected to become the cheapest on the market, with a single dose costing just 0.54 dollars. At such a low price, it is anticipated that many developing countries in Africa will be able to afford the new vaccine. According to the WTO, measles kills nearly 160,000 people each year, most of them children under the age of five, therefore the vaccine will be a welcome new tool in the fight against this child-killer.