Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bednets Sachs's legacy...

I have been firing off missiles regarding the irresponsible distribution of bednets to all and sundry, with no result. The Environmental Council of Zambia, apart from an initial acknowledgement of the problem, remain mute - as on other matters. Therefore it was good to read this piece. However, what is being done about it? Oncemore the donors from Gates to Sachs to DFId to Canadian Red Cross - the whole bang shoot, must shoulder responsibility for what bednets are doing to the fishery. Africa just lies back and takes it because powerful individuals make money out of it.

The news from africanpress on November 14, 2007 reported by Wilfred Zulu, is that "Zambia’s quest to fight Malaria has come under an unprecedented challenge as it scales up to overcome an epidemic that is claiming an average of 50,000 lives a year. Among the key challenges facing the country is the improper use of the Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs) by some beneficiaries. The other problem is educating people on the need to seek early treatment to avert malaria-related deaths.
Health officials say Zambia’s efforts to fight malaria are being frustrated by people living near lakes and rivers. These people, they say, are using the nets for economic gains as opposed to safeguarding themselves against the mosquito bite that causes malaria and subsequent death. Health spokesman Canisius Banda said, despite government giving away the protective nets at highly subsidised rates to most vulnerable people, the trend of misusing the nets has continued, fueling concerns that Zambia’s desire to scale down malaria by 2010, as demanded by the World Health Organisation (WHO), might fail.
‘’We have introduced ITNs as a way of fighting the disease but most people, especially in rural areas, use it for fishing at the expense of their lives,’’ Mukonka said. The abusers are mainly people in the north-eastern region near lakes Bangweulu and Mweru, and in Mpulungu, a border town near Tanzania, as well as those living near Zambezi River and Kafue River in southern Zambia, according to a survey. Health Minister Brian Chituwo says unless Zambians changed their attitudes, the fight against malaria might fail. Zambia has teamed up with British Department for International Development (DFID), and Japan International Corporation Agency, as well as WHO, UN’s Children’s Fund and local stakeholders to fight the disease. DFID provided 1.6 million dollars to cover 2003-2006 and Global Fund 17 million dollars to finance a two-year comprehensive malaria control programme in Zambia, Chituwo said.

Joseph Sichone, a fisherman in Mpulungu, says he has been forced to use the nets for fishing. He says he has a family of eight, most of who are at school, to look after. ‘’Because of the high level of poverty in our area, we are using the nets to catch fish to sell and make ends meet,’’ Sichone says. ‘’We are doing this to save our children from dying of hunger.’’ fddddddddddddMary Mwele, who lives near Lake Mweru, says she has also been forced to use the net to feed her children. Her husband died five years ago. Fishermen say they are prepared to stop abusing the net should the government provide them with loans to start alternative businesses. Edward Tafuna, a traditional ruler in northern Zambia, blames the government for failing to help his people, most of whom, he says, are vulnerable and at the mercy of hunger. ‘’Most of my subjects have been told not to use the nets for fishing but they are wondering how they can survive in this economy. The government should either create jobs or empower the people through loans,’’ Tafuna says.

DFID health advisor in Zambia, Tony Daly says the British funding was intended to benefit children under the age of five as well as pregnant women. The nets, he says, are a vital component of the government’s Roll Back Malaria programme.
‘’We are concerned that people put themselves at risk of contracting the disease if they are not sleeping under the nets. We are pleased that, through on-going information, the authorities are reinforcing messages on the correct use of ITNs and the importance of using them for malaria prevention. This public education is crucial and can save lives,’’ Daly says.
WHO Malaria Expert in Zambia, Fred Masinga warned that the use of the mosquito nets for fishing would affect the aquatic life. ‘’We have reports of people using the ITNs for fishing and not for their safety. We are presently undertaking a study to verify the reports although we know that the nets can’t last for long because they are meant to trap mosquitoes and not fish,’’ Masinga says. The Environmental Council of Zambia spokesman, Joseph Mukosa says his organisation will work to discourage fishermen from using the nets. ‘’The ITNs are meant to protect people especially pregnant women and children. And for someone to have the audacity to use it to catch fish is out of this world. The Zambian government needs to speed up its sensitisation programme to avoid unnecessarily deaths among the vulnerable people,’’ Stella Goings, UNICEF Representative in Zambia, said.

Of the 10.5 million people, 50,000 Zambians die every year from malaria, and nearly 40 percent of the deaths of children aged five years or under are caused by the disease, according to the Lusaka-based National Malaria Control Centre. Not only Zambia, but similar problem is facing the 13-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) where around 63 percent of the population lives in malarial zone, according to the Harare-based Southern Africa Malaria Control programme.
In areas of stable transmission, under-five year olds and pregnant women are at greatest risk of severe malaria due to the low levels of acquired immunity, said the organisation. While in the predominantly stable transmission countries - Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia – there are an estimated 13.7 million under-five year olds and 3.4 million pregnant women at risk of severe malaria, it added. In the predominantly unstable transmission countries – Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe – where all age groups have a high risk of malaria due to low levels of acquired immunity, 12.4 million people are at risk of malaria. According to the organisation, malaria is responsible for 200,000 deaths per annum in the SADC region. Between 10 million and 37 million confirmed cases of malaria occur in the sub-region every year, it says.

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