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Zimbabwe: helping health authorities combat malaria in isolated communities

09-05-2007 Feature

Malaria is Zimbabwe's second biggest killer, after AIDS. The ministry of health has developed an effective strategy to combat the disease but does not always have the resources to carry it out, so the ICRC is pitching in.

  ©ICRC/S. Brack    
  Pumula. A mother with her child shows delight upon receiving a mosquito net.    

  ©ICRC/S. Brack    
  Dr Mourad and Sister Ngwane distribute 1,000 mosquito nets to mothers in Pumula.    

  ©ICRC/S. Brack    
  Pumula. A local health official demonstrates how to use the mosquito nets.    


" Every year, malaria needlessly kills hundreds of children in this area, " laments Sister Catherine Ngwane, the nurse in charge of Pumula Mission Hospital in Tsholotsho District. It is one of 16 isolated rural health facilities currently supported by the ICRC.

In accordance with the needs expressed by the ministry of health, the ICRC is busy donating 30,000 mosquito nets treated with long-lasting insecticide to households in three rural districts: Tsholotsho, Chivi and Makoni.

The nets are primarily for children under five years and pregnant mothers, the two most vulnerable groups. Studies have shown that the nets can reduce the likelihood of catching the disease by up to 85%, if used correctly. For this reason, all ICRC distributions include a demonstration on how to use them.

The ICRC is also helping the ministry of health organize and run courses on malaria prevention and treatment using new, more effective, drugs. The ICRC finances the transport, accommodation and expenses of nurses who come from health facilities in the area to attend the courses.

" The Zimbabwean health officials have the know-how. We just need to help them deliver it to their staff in the field, " explains Dr Iliana Mourad, the ICRC's health delegate overseeing the programme. " I am really impressed by the calibre of the nurses too, " adds Dr Mourad. " They do work that is done by doctors in most countries. "

The training allows the nurses to update their knowledge and skills in order to address more of the myriad challenges they face at the grassroots level. This reduces the number of cases they h ave to refer to the district or provincial hospitals, which is crucial given the prohibitive cost of transport for most rural folk.

" Many of our patients die because they simply can't get to the hospital in time. By equipping these health structures with the knowledge and medicines we need, the ICRC is indirectly saving countless lives, " explains Sister Ntombiyejelle Ncube, the sister in charge of Sipepa rural clinic. 

The ICRC is supporting the sixteen rural health centres in many areas other than malaria. It is also providing them with drugs, training, water and sanitation assistance. The organization's teams, together with the communities themselves and the local water authorities, repair or build latrines, boreholes and waste management systems.

As in the case of malaria, the ICRC finances training sessions for ministry of health personnel according to the needs expressed by the ministry itself. In all its work in the health centres, the ICRC seeks to help the ministry of health discharge its duties according to its own priorities and strategies.

Zimbabwe has one of the widest networks of health facilities on the continent but it is having trouble maintaining the scale and quality of its services due to financial constraints.

" Because of the hyperinflation that grips the country, the ministry's budget just evaporates, " explains Sister Lisa Nqwababa, Tsholotsho District Matron. Inflation is currently running at 2,200%, a world record.

The ICRC plans to extend its help to over thirty isolated rural health facilities by the end of the year.