- More than 2 million mosquito nets are currently being distributed as Niger has launched an initiative to battle malaria. Mothers of children under age 5 throughout the country are the main beneficiaries. With Niger's rainy season due to begin in May, the programme aims to protect 3.5 million children from malaria.
Distribution of mosquito nets began in December last year in a campaign that was supported by an US$ 11 million grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as by US$ 2 million from the Canadian International Development Agency. The distribution in Niger is organised by the Niamey Ministry of Health and the International Red Cross/Crescent.
The initial week of vaccination and bed net distribution in rural Niger in December was followed by a second "push" on 17 March, through 54 distribution centres in the capital city of Niamey. The campaign made use of a voucher scheme, whereby mothers were presented with a voucher for a free mosquito net once their child had been vaccinated against polio, the Global Fund informed today.
The campaign also drew upon "a clear commitment from the people of Niger," the Fund added, including 3850 Red Cross volunteers and another 16,150 other vaccinators and community workers who played an essential role in accessing even the remotest areas of Niger. The Niger Red Cross Society has pledged to play an essential role in following up that the nets are correctly hung up and used.
With a population of more than twelve million, Niger ranks last of 177 countries measured by the UNDP Human Development Index. Heavily burdened by malaria, 97 percent of Niger's population is at risk from the disease. In many cases, the mosquito-borne disease is fatal, especially among young children and the elderly.
Children in Niger face an under-five mortality rate among the highest in the world - 255 per 1000. To a significant degree, this is due to the spread of malaria and the initiative therefore mostly targets young children. Supported in part by the Global Fund, Niger's National Malaria Programme aims to provide over 90 percent of its at-risk population with at least one mosquito net per household.
The Global Fund currently supports Niger's efforts to combat malaria through two grants worth US$ 16 million, according to a press release issued by the Fund. A third grant worth up to US$ 4.6 million for malaria programmes was approved in the Fund's fifth round of grant approvals last December, and "will be signed in coming weeks," it added.
Niger's national programme to rapidly provide mosquito nets to the vast majority of families in Niger was described by the Fund as "a model for similar campaigns to be launched elsewhere in Africa, a significant step toward achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015."
In a separate development related to the fight against malaria - the single largest killer of children in Africa - stars of the African music world and international public health experts, gathered in New York last week for the US premiere screening of "AFRICA LIVE: The Roll Back Malaria Concert", hosted by the UN.
"One of the most effective interventions is to make sure that all children and mothers sleep under impregnated mosquito nets," Kul Gautam of the UN's Children's Fund UNICEF said at the screening. "These mosquito nets cost only five cents apiece. If all the children of Africa slept under mosquito nets, a quarter of a million children would not die every year," he added.
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