“When the rainy season comes, our children fall sick because of the weather. It’s malaria, flu, cough – even measles. It affects us because they miss lessons, and they can’t always catch up when they come back.”
Mary is a teacher at Iyolwa Primary School in Tororo, eastern Uganda. She teaches maths, English and social studies to a class of around 80 students, most of whom are no more than 10 years old. Her students study hard but, like in many parts of the country, their education can be severely disrupted by malaria and other illnesses.
During my visit to check up on Comic Relief’s Operation Health project in the same district, I was fortunate enough to be able to observe an activity from one of our projects that tackles this issue head-on: the distribution of long lasting insecticidal nets that would provide protection for over a thousand children and their families.
Whilst malaria mortality and morbidity in Uganda is generally high, Tororo is the worst hit by the disease. On average, residents are exposed to one to two infectious mosquito bites per night, with malaria accounting for more than 40 percent of patient visits to many health facilities. Sleeping under a long lasting insecticide treated mosquito net is one of the best ways to prevent malaria, but unfortunately they are not always available, or if they are, people don’t know how to use them properly.
The Malaria Control Culture project in Tororo focuses on developing ‘routine’ net distributions, ensuring nets reach those that need them most and encouraging people to use them. At the health facility level, we provide nets for pregnant women (who are at an increased risk of contracting malaria) when they go for antenatal check-ups. We also help ensure good net coverage through annual distribution campaigns for school children in years one and four.
It was one of the school net distributions that I visited, arriving in time to enjoy a lively drama about malaria prevention performed by a group of village health workers and primary school pupils. While the drama was going on, Malaria Consortium staff were speaking with teachers about the logistics of the distribution, while parents and relations gathered in the shade to hear from district officials and other experts about how to use the nets.
“Today we are going to show you exactly what Malaria Consortium has done for the people in the village, and what good things are going on there,” said Saul, head village health team member (VHT) of the sub-county. “We are going to show you through song, and at the same time we are going to make a drama so you can see exactly what is happening.” He told me that he was there with other VHTs to teach the school children how to protect themselves and their families from malaria. This way, children not only bring home a net but can also pass along the lessons they have learnt on preventing malaria, he explained.
When the drama ended, children in Y1 and Y4 began to gather outside the school building, where teachers read out their names from class registers Abbo Kevin, mother of six year-old daughter Stella who received a net that day, told me: “I came to this school when I was younger, but I didn’t receive nets. This is the first time. Before, malaria was so high, but it is now decreasing because of the nets.”
Mary said she and the other teachers are also happy to see a drop in the number of absences: “Since the nets, it has changed. Many have been falling sick, but as of now the numbers have been reduced.”
Take a look at the photo gallery below to see some of the photos from the net distribution:
Ilya Jones is Communications Officer at Malaria Consortium in London.