International best-selling author & UNICEF Ireland Ambassador Cathy Kelly has just returned from her third field visit with UNICEF. Last week Cathy and Fyffes Managing Director Gerry Cunningham visited Mozambique to find out more about UNICEF Ireland and Fyffes’ work to prevent malaria; a disease that kills a child in Mozambique every fifteen minutes and still remains the number one cause of death among children in the African country.
During her visit, Cathy learned how not only is malaria both preventable and treatable, but how effective preventive and curative tools have been developed in the fight back against this deadly child killer. Sleeping under insecticide treated bed nets can reduce overall child mortality by 20 per cent and prompt access to effective treatment can further reduce deaths.
Unfortunately, many children in Mozambique and throughout Africa continue to die from malaria as they do not sleep under insecticide-treated nets and are unable to access life-saving treatment quick enough following the onset of symptoms.
During her week-long visit, Cathy visited towns and rural areas of the Manica province in central Mozambique to find out more about UNICEF Ireland's work to prevent malaria in that region since 2007. Over the past five years, UNICEF Ireland has been in a very important partnership with Fyffes, which has achieved outstanding results in preventing the spread of malaria amongst orphaned and other vulnerable children in Mozambique.
Through the distribution of mosquito nets and the support of health facilities and community projects Fyffes supporting UNICEF Ireland has saved the lives of over 11,400 children under the age of five between 2008 and 2011, prevented over 200,000 cases of malaria and sent 50,000 nets directly to vulnerable families in Mozambique.
During her trip, Cathy visited regional and rural hospitals to see first-hand the impact of malaria on communities and the health system in Mozambique. One of the first stops was at the Regional Hospital of Chimoio, where Cathy visited the neo-natal ward and paediatric malaria ward.
During her visit to the neo-natal ward, Cathy found out how malaria infection during pregnancy is associated with severe anaemia in expectant mothers and subsequently contributes to low birth weight among new-born infants — one of the leading risk factors for infant mortality and sub-optimal growth and development. “Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to malaria as pregnancy reduces a woman’s immunity to malaria and makes her more susceptible to malaria infection” explained the UNICEF Ireland Ambassador after her visit. “For the unborn child, maternal malaria increases the risk of stillbirth, premature delivery and low birth weight - a leading cause of child mortality in Mozambique. Some of the babies I saw in the neo-natal ward in Chimoio, weighed about 1kg at birth after their mothers had caught malaria during their pregnancies” continued the UNICEF Ireland Ambassador.
One of the mothers Cathy met in the crowded paediatric ward was 19 year old Raebeca Vasco and her 9-month old baby Florencia, who was currently being treated for malaria. Florencia was diagnosed in her rural community clinic 5kms away from the hospital with a rapid malaria testing kit and referred immediately to the hospital for treatment. Thankfully, even though Florencia developed complications, she was making good progress.
Cathy also visited the rural health centre in the Gondola District. The centre which has only one doctor, serves a local community of over 310,000 inhabitants. Here Cathy met with 32 year old Amelia Mandado who is 20 weeks pregnant with her 4th child and attending the ante natal care clinic. Cathy watched on as Nurse Helena Mentira gave Amelia a long lasting insecticide treated bed net, and two types of medicines to be used intermittently for malaria prevention during her pregnancy. With Fyffes support, this health centre has distributed over 6,000 bed-nets to pregnant women in the past year. “Visiting the clinic here today, I've really learnt how important it is for UNICEF to be able to support this vital work at grassroots level. These key interventions that Amelia received during her visit today as well as the education she has seen on how to use the bed net correctly are carried by Nurse Helena with every pregnant woman who attends the clinic. These are critical in reducing the number of pregnant women who die from malaria each year in Mozambique as well as lead to babies being born healthier and with a greater chance of survival.”
One of the next stops of Cathy's visit was to the “EPC de Mude” Primary school in the Gondola district. The school is attended by over 1000 pupils who attend in 3 shifts during the day as the school does not have enough classrooms to facilitate all the pupils at the same time. During her visit, Cathy met with students there who had created entries for the “Saved by the Net” Art Competition which is currently running in Ireland for primary school children to design a poster that tells the story of malaria and how it can be prevented.
Cathy also visited the rural community of Pumbuto in the Gondola district. Here in a remote area with no cell phone coverage, the women in the local community drummed out the announcement of Cathy's arrival to the village for the community to come out to greet her. Here during her visit, Cathy met Julio Alexandre who is one of 22 community health workers who have been trained with UNICEF's support. Giving a better understanding of how UNICEF works in remote parts of Mozambique to address the problem of malaria, Alexandre explained how he uses rapid diagnostic tests for malaria, administers antimalarial drugs for confirmed cases of malaria, antibiotics for pneumonia and oral rehydration solution and zinc for children suffering from diarrhoea. Severe cases are immediately referred to the health centre in Gondola for attention, which Cathy had visited earlier that day. “It was really helpful to meet Julio today” said Cathy after the visit. Community health workers like him play a key role to ensure that Mozambican children living in very remote areas of the country have the healthiest start possible. It's extraordinary that Julio covers on average 74km every day on bike to reach children in rural areas and it was great to see how Julio with UNICEF’s help is able to reach out and protect children in some of Mozambique’s most hard to reach communities.”
Cathy Kelly was accompanied on the visit to Mozambique by Fyffes Managing Director Gerry Cunningham, who was visiting the country to see the impact Fyffes support of UNICEF’s work has had since they began their partnership in 2008. Speaking about his time in Mozambique, he said: “It was a humbling experience to see first-hand the effects of malaria in Mozambique. However it was also extremely encouraging to see the success of the aid distribution provided by UNICEF Ireland through Fyffes support and funding. Effective aid distribution is a highly specialised skill which encompasses many disciplines (medical, logistic, political etc) and is most effective when performed by an organisation with an unsurpassable track record such as UNICEF Ireland and we are very proud to assist their critical work in Mozambique.”
“Fyffes is a vital partner to UNICEF Ireland in our on-going work to save children’s lives from malaria in Mozambique and we are very grateful for their dedicated commitment to UNICEF Ireland since 2008” said UNICEF Ireland Executive Director Peter Power.” A strong alliance has built up between UNICEF Ireland and Fyffes over the past five years and during the past week both Cathy Kelly and Gerry Cunningham have seen the very tangible results of Fyffes’ support and gained a greater understanding of the critical role Fyffes has played in the fight against malaria in Mozambique.”