A young man sits surrounded by mosquito nets in his family home in Mulunguishi, DR Congo.
Bed Nets for DR Congo
By Julia Kayser*
May 25, 2012—Sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net is one of the most important things people can do to protect themselves against malaria. Therefore, bed net distribution programs are a key aspect of many global health projects. But without proper training for the community, the nets may be hung incorrectly or used for purposes other than intended. UMCOR is developing a holistic strategy for bed net distribution that we hope will lead to great long-term results.
In 2010, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 15,000 nets were distributed by UMCOR in and around the city of Kamina. Malaria is a constant problem in this city, with an average infection rate of 32.5 percent, according to the Kamina Health District. The 2010 distribution aimed to protect the most vulnerable members of the population: pregnant mothers and children under the age of five. Eight months after the nets were distributed, surveys showed that 94 percent of the people who received a net still had it and were using it properly. This demonstrates the short-term success of the program.
Buoyed by the success of this and other distributions, UMCOR went back to Kamina at the beginning of 2012 with its largest DRC distribution to date. Seventy-seven thousand nets were distributed to a target population of more than 179,000 people. At the same time, another 9,000 nets were distributed in Mulungwishi, also in Katanga Province.
These two distributions wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of some 250 volunteers, says Amber Kubera, UMCOR’s program officer for DR Congo. “Intensive training of volunteers is what makes these programs work and really distinguishes them.” The holistic training covers malaria’s symptoms, transmission, treatment, and prevention, knowledge which the volunteers then impart to net recipients.
After being trained, the volunteers go door-to-door in groups of three. Two of the three people hang the nets over the beds. The third person sits with the family, answers their questions, and explains how to use and wash the nets. UMCOR provides an average of three nets per household.
“We use the principal of universal coverage,” says Kubera. “We want to make sure that the most vulnerable people get to sleep under the net.” Hanging three nets per household instead of just one has proven to be an effective way of protecting mothers and small children.
Three months after the initial distribution, the volunteers get a “quick refresher course” and go door-to-door again, collecting data about the way the nets are being used and making sure they are still hung correctly. Another round of follow-up visits happens in six to eight months. This way, UMCOR has a way to track the success of its mosquito net distribution programs. “What we aim to do,” says Kubera, “is to have a formula for how we do this so that we can compare results over time.”
Every successful distribution paves the way for future distributions. Kubera says, “This is something we are becoming experts in doing.” That expertise allows UMCOR to develop powerful partnerships with governments and nongovernmental organizations.
Next month in Lualaba and Kanzenze, UMCOR has planned a distribution in partnership with UNICEF, the National Malaria Control Program, and NetsforLife®. UNICEF will provide the nets free of charge, and NetsforLife® will help with the volunteer training. Then, through UMCOR’s tried and true system, 89,600 nets will be provided to communities that critically need them.
You can support this valuable ministry with your gift to Community-based, Malaria-control Program, UMCOR Advance #982009
*Julia Kayser is a writer and regular contributor to umcor.org.