Some use the nets for fishing, drying coffee and as goal posts
The government’s strategy of fighting against malaria through a countrywide distribution of mosquito nets has been plagued by widespread ignorance, with some people putting the lifesaving items to other uses.
President Museveni launched the distribution of 21 million long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLINs) in Soroti in May, as part of his government’s effort to eliminate malaria.
However, in the central districts of Luweero, Nakasongola and Masaka, the nets are being used to protect household livestock such as poultry and not the family members as envisaged.
The move endangers many children and pregnant mothers who are at a risk of contracting malaria, which kills at least 100,000 people annually. Of the 1,000 children born in Uganda, 99 are killed by malaria before their fifth birthday.
One of these is Florence Akello, a resident of Kasaala B village, Butuntumula sub-county in Luweero. She used her children’s mosquito net to build a chicken shelter for her hen and its chicks.
“The rats were disturbing the chicks; so, they needed protection,” the evidently pregnant Akello says. She says she is due any time and continues to sleep under a mosquito net but her children continue to suffer from malaria.
“When they fall sick, I take them to hospital. I have to buy the medication for malaria from Kasana health centre III for them because they cannot give you medicine free of charge,” Akello says.
Richard Ssembajjwe, a doctor based in Luweero, is hurt by the development.
“It pains me to find that people in Mukokonyeko, who have just received new mosquito nets, are using them to make chicken houses and also to brew liquor,” Ssembajjwe said.
“We distribute nets and yet many people complain that they did not get, when other people are using them to shelter chicken.”
In Masaka, some residents have reportedly rejected the free mosquito nets because they are blue in colour. According to the senior district nursing officer, Margaret Ntambaazi Nabaggala, such people linked the colour to the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
Nabaggala made the disclosure at Dimo landing site in Kyesiiga sub-county last week during ceremonies to mark World Aids day. She insisted that there were enough nets for everyone who needed them.
“We are now thinking of setting another date for distribution because we have plenty of mosquito nets in store,” she said.
“Government has played its role but you are frustrating its programmes which are intended to help you and in particular to guard against malaria, the number one killer disease.”
In Masaka and Nakasongola, some people use the nets for fishing or drying coffee while others put them in football goal posts. The government seeks to reduce malaria related deaths by 75 per cent by 2015.
Dr Albert Peter Okui, acting programme manager for malaria control, says Uganda is following global targets to roll back malaria. Government plans to distribute one mosquito net for every two people in the country in a bid to achieve near zero deaths from malaria by 2015.
The project, jointly funded by the Global Fund, Britain’s DFID and World Vision, cost $100 million (Shs 260bn). The distribution of mosquito nets countrywide, indoor residual spraying and early treatment are some of the initiatives being promoted to achieve those targets.
“Using nets is one of the safest methods of preventing and controlling malaria and may lead to a 19 per cent reduction in child mortality and a 40%-60% reduction in malaria infection,” Okui said.
If the project succeeds, malaria deaths could reduce from 100,000 people a year to about 40,000.