By Eveline Chikwanah
CHIMANIMANI, Zimbabwe – David Matende,77, looked intently at the roof of his home as if watching a flashback of his life. His wizened face pensive, he appeared to be a man who has seen all life has to offer. And in some ways he has.
What distinguishes Matende from other men in his neighborhood is that he is a victor: a man who has cheated death twice.
“I suffered two malaria attacks in 1992. The first time was in February and I was treated at Biriiri District Hospital. In July I had a severe attack of cerebral malaria and I nearly died,” he says.
At the time of the malaria attacks, Matende was working at a farm which depended on irrigation systems. His duties were mainly conducted at night: “The mosquitoes were very crafty. The ones that transmit malaria were not noisy and I would only realize that I had been bitten when my skin started itching.”
Matende, of Biriiri village, 420km south-east of the capital Harare, is one of the beneficiaries of the United Methodist Church campaign, Imagine No Malaria, which is aimed at reducing the number of deaths from the disease in Zimbabwe. Last year, the church distributed over 21 000 long lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) in six administrative wards of Chimanimani district. In Phase 2, the UMC humanitarian arm, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) will distribute 22 000 mosquito nets beginning January.
A stone’s throw from Matende’s homestead, Tabitha Makaka,72, celebrates the UMCOR efforts to curb malaria as she received three LLIN mosquito nets. Her grandson, Godfrey Makaka, 20, was affected by malaria last year and prior to Imagine No Malaria, she resorted to traditional methods of eradicating mosquitoes.
“We used to burn Eucalyptus tree leaves and cow dung every evening in an effort to kill the mosquitoes. They didn’t die but were repelled for a short while and would return. We even slept with our heads covered by blankets to avoid being bitten,” she says.
Godfrey was also treated at Biriiri Hospital and recovered, but the family cannot remember the drug used for his treatment. The Makaka home is located in one of the 10 wards the Zimbabwe government managed to spray with insecticides in November. The main door proudly bears the sticker confirming the fumigation with chemicals which kill mosquitoes for up to six months.
Makaka has been taught by village health workers how to maintain her home and reduce breeding grounds for mosquito larvae by trimming hedges, cutting grass and filling any pools of stagnant water with soil. She was, however, unaware of how the insecticide treated nets work.
“I thought the important part of the net was the size of the holes which would not allow mosquitoes to get through,” she told the UMCOR delegation who visited her home in December to assist her in hanging up the three nets she received. “I only realized later that the nets have a chemical which kills the mosquitoes on contact. The nets have brought peaceful nights as we are no longer bothered.”
A delegation from the Great Plains Episcopal Area led by Bishop Scott Jones was in Biriiri in December to attend celebrations to mark the launch of Phase 2 of the Imagine No Malaria campaign in Chimanimani District and visited households who had received mosquito nets from UMC. Team members assisted the recipients to hang up their nets which were equivalent to the number of sleeping spaces at the homes.
Dr. Moleen Matimbira, of the UMC-run Mutambara Mission Hospital, the main referral centre for the Biriiri community, said the whole population of Chimanimani was at risk of contracting malaria. Biriiri is one of the high risk areas in the district which has over 136 000 people.
Matimbira said over 14,600 cases of malaria are treated each year in Chimanimani District. Children under 5, pregnant women, the elderly and chronically ill people were the most vulnerable group.
“The contributory factors to malaria transmission by the infected anopheles mosquito include immunity, age and behaviour and environmental factors such as rainfall, high temperatures and humidity,” she says.
Environmental Health Technician, Moses Siyafanana, says there is a high incidence of malaria towards the start of Zimbabwe’s rain season. Statistics at Biriiri Hospital show that 81 suspected cases of malaria were seen in September and 150 in October. The rain season starts in November and provides warmth and stagnant water conducive for the mosquito to breed.
Imagine No Malaria has adopted a multi-pronged approach to eradicating malaria with emphasis on educating people how to prevent the disease in addition to providing nets. At the home of Eveline Mubika, 68, the lessons have been learned and are put into practice.
The home is smart and there are no breeding places for mosquito larvae visible as grass has been cut and there are no stagnant pools of water for the insect to breed. Mubika’s daughter, Mollen, 37, says they have both suffered from malaria and were treated with the drug Coartemether.
“We are happy with the donation of mosquito nets by UMCOR as we are now protected from mosquitoes,” says Mollen. She easily recites all lessons she has been taught by her local village health worker who was trained by UMCOR. Drama is also used to spread the message on malaria and local drama groups treated the 300 people gathered at Biriiri in December to some hilarious comedy in an effort to dispel myths about malaria and educate the community with facts about the epidemic.
Village health workers have been trained to use the Rapid Diagnostic Test kits and this has greatly contributed to the effective diagnosis of suspected malaria cases. Matimbira says partnerships are key to eradicating malaria.
“Government, private partners and stakeholders should take a combined effort and enhance relevant support and approaches towards the reduction of malaria transmission. Let us invest in malaria and save lives,” she said.
Long lasting insecticidal nets have a life span of five years if properly used and the insecticide remains effective for up to 20 washes. It is recommended that they are left to air for about 24 hours before they are used. Instead of airing, they can be washed with water before first use and the water should be disposed away from domestic animals. If preliminary airing or washing is not done, users may experience an itchy reaction which will clear after a day or two.
Eveline Chikwanah is United Methodist communicator in Zimbabwe.