When a pregnant woman aged about 20 arrived last week at the hospital of this small northern Senegalese town, it was already too late.
When a pregnant woman aged about 20 arrived last week at the hospital of this small northern Senegalese town, it was already too late. Her malaria was so serious and so advanced that medical staff could not save her. The chief midwife, echoing a message from international organizations on Africa Malaria Day, said people still did not take the disease seriously enough. “There’s a lack of information about malaria,” Ndiaye Nogoye Thiaw said Sunday in her office in the one-story hospital. Although it has not received the publicity surrounding HIV-AIDS in recent years, malaria remains one of Africa’s deadliest diseases, especially for pregnant women and children. An African child dies of the mosquito-borne disease every 30 seconds, according to some estimates, making it the number one killer of infants under five on the continent. Ninety percent of the more than one million people who die from malaria per year are in sub-Saharan Africa, aid groups say. “It’s still a problem because we didn’t pay as much attention to malaria as we do to AIDS,” said Tony Musinde-Sangwa, health and nutrition adviser for West and Central Africa at the United Nations children’s fund, Unicef. Aid agencies and governments pledged to change that at a summit in Abuja, Nigeria, on April 25, 2000, setting concrete targets for improving treatment and prevention of malaria. The date of their meeting is marked each year as Africa Malaria Day. With resistance growing dramatically among malaria parasites to traditional treatments such as chloroquine, relief organizations have used this year’s event to call for rapid implementation of a new therapy which is far more effective but also more expensive. BETTER TREATMENT Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) is already widely used in Asia. Aid workers say rich countries and drug makers should help make it available quickly across Africa too.”Better treatment is available and must be delivered urgently to the people who need it most,” Lee Jong-wook, the head of the World Health Organization, said in a statement. But drugs are only one response to the problem. Activists are trying to increase the use of mosquito nets impregnated with insecticide, which they say can reduce mortality by 20 percent among children. They have also been working to educate local communities on the dangers of malaria. At a colorful ceremony in the burning heat of northern Senegal — the focal point for Malaria Day this year — children put on a play showing a boy with malaria who is first taken to a traditional healer. The healer does not treat him for malaria, saying he is possessed by a genie, and his condition gets worse. Ibrahim Fickou, a nurse at the health center in the village of Wodobere where the ceremony was held, says the scenario is common. “It’s only afterwards, when things are serious, that people bring us those cases,” declared Fickou, who says more than 400 of the 600 patients he sees each month suffer from malaria. But he said the play and other education projects showed communities were becoming much better informed. “They are starting to understand the importance of modern treatment,” he said. (Source: Reuters Health News, April 2004)