Bangui/Mpoko II, Central African Republic (CAR), 11 April 2011 – Marceline Nguizaima, 38, lost three babies to malaria between 2008 and 2009, each before their first birthday. She still cries when she thinks about them, which is often. Report by Brigitte Stark-Merklein
“Children should be with their parents, they shouldn’t die,” she says, “they should be taken care of.”
Marceline and her husband used to sleep under a mosquito net but the children slept separately, without protection. Her husband died suddenly last year, when she was four months pregnant with her last child. Since then, Marceline has learned a lot about malaria and mosquitoes thanks to a UNICEF-supported malaria awareness campaign. Marceline received a bednet to protect her family during the campaign in which UNICEF distributed over 1 million long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets (LLITNs).
Working closely with communities, the government and partner organizations, UNICEF distributed at least one mosquito net to each of the country’s 896,000 households throughout 2010. In preparation to this mass distribution, UNICEF helped train community agents who went door-to-door to teach people how to hang and use the bednets.
“I sleep with my baby under the mosquito net every night,” says Marceline. As a result, 9-month-old Esther has not had malaria. But Marceline’s three other surviving children often do; their malaria episodes typically last between one and two weeks. “Being alone, it’s hard for me when the children get sick because I need to care for them, but this prevents me from going to work,” explains Marceline. Staying at home to care for her children further reduces her meager income from selling homemade traditional foods.
Malaria is often described as a disease of poverty and a cause of poverty. It is endemic in the Central African Republic and one of the main child killers. It accounts for an estimated 19 per cent of child deaths, contributing to the country’s high infant and child mortality rates.
As part of the country’s strategy to reduce the impact of malaria on children, pregnant women and families in general, the regular use of insecticide treated bednets combined with early diagnosis and treatment has been a priority in UNICEF’s malaria response. However, an additional 2 million nets are required to cover the needs of each household, which is estimated at three nets per family.
Outside her house, in their densely populated neighbourhood, Marceline points to the narrow walkways littered with garbage and stagnant water. “Look around, this is an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, and we have lots of them here,” explains Marceline. There is no drainage system and inundations are common when it rains, mixing mud with sewage. The mother of four is relieved to have little Esther, at least, sleep under a mosquito net but she desperately needs another one to protect her older children.