Almost half the world’s population is at risk of malaria. While most people with the disease suffer from flu-like symptoms such as fever and chills, if left untreated, severe complications can arise. Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to malaria and to malaria-related complications. In 2015, there were an estimated 214 million cases of malaria worldwide, leading to 438,000 deaths, mostly in children.
Although it can be life-threatening, malaria is preventable. One primary prevention effort in areas where the disease is prevalent is sleeping under insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) to limit contact with malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Since the 1990s, Plan International has worked to promote and distribute these bed nets.
This World Malaria Day, we want to highlight just one of these projects.
From 2011-2014, Plan worked with the Global Fund to combat malaria in 12 countries in West Africa and Latin America. One of these countries was Togo, which is located in West Africa in an area where malaria is very prevalent.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria is the third leading cause of mortality overall in Togo, and the number one cause of death in children under the age of 5. There was a strong need for innovative and sustainable malaria programming, so Plan stepped in to work with the local government to implement effective prevention programming through the distribution and use of insecticide-treated nets.
Thanks to the efforts of Plan and its partners, net ownership and utilization has increase significantly in Togo. “How,” you ask? Well, it all boils down to Plan’s efforts with many stakeholders and partners to distribute nets that reached 2,807,950 households and about 14,039,750 people during the life of the project.
Here is how we made such a substantial impact: The Global Fund project was implemented in two phases. In each phase, millions of nets were purchased and distributed through a family voucher program. Each household received a voucher that stated the number of members in that household. On distribution day, one member of each household was responsible for going to the distribution center and exchanging the voucher for the proper number of bed nets. All collections were marked in a register to ensure that everyone was accounted for. After the distribution was complete, the register was used to identify households that did not claim the bed nets. These households were later notified by a letter on their door encouraging them to go to the distribution center to pick up their nets.
Plan’s staff worked closely with the government of Togo and other partners throughout this distribution process. Plan’s primary role was to oversee the inventory and shipping of the bed nets, and to train local partners on the logistics of a large-scale distribution, such as how to take inventory, distribute the nets, and track the distribution.
Sounds simple? Not really.
Once the distribution was complete, Plan still had to ensure that the distributed insecticide nets were actually being used. You see, many households like to continue to use their old nets for as long as possible. However, old nets are not nearly as effective at repelling mosquitoes because insecticide wears off and the nets may develop holes.
To ensure that everyone was using their new nets, Plan supported community health workers to go door-to-door after the distributions to check that the new nets were being used. Each year the nets distributed are a different color, making it easy for the health workers to quickly confirm at just a glance that the new nets are in use.
It is true that there is a lot more that needs to be done—bed net distribution is just one part of the package. We focus on behavior change communication and raise awareness through the media, and we and also work with community health workers who are trained to provide home-based management of malaria. Continued initiatives and partnerships are needed to ensure that all aspects of malaria prevention, control, and elimination are addressed across the globe. However, Plan and its partners are tackling this global challenge head-on and making a significant impact along the way.