Magaragensi rests on a piece of wood with her 2-year-old daughter on her lap. She and two of her neighbours have walked several kilometres to reach this point. Next to her is exactly what she came for: a stack of four neatly-packed mosquito bed nets.
The young mother of two is one of the beneficiaries of a mosquito net distribution held in Kyaruhanga, which is about 2km km from the centre of Ibanda Town, in Western Uganda . The distribution point was organized by health staff in coordination with community leaders.
Recently, people in Magaragensi’s region have grown worried after hearing about fever outbreaks in bordering districts. She decided to make the trek to get nets after hearing about the distribution from a neighbour.
Before receiving her nets, she and her daughter had to pass a quick malaria test – fortunately, it was negative for both of them. Despite the result, she says she cannot relax because of the stories she has heard of people who have been dying from strange fevers, including malaria and yellow fever.
“It is important to use mosquito nets because fevers are killing,” says Magaragensi. “In our village, fevers, dirty water and mosquitoes never stop.”
A persistent threat
Malaria is still one of the biggest killers in Uganda. Nearly half of under-five deaths are caused by the disease.
“Every year, more than 234 deaths occur in every 1,000 children from this illness caused by mosquito bites,” says Jane Muhwezi, a health worker. “The distribution of mosquito nets held in Western Region is part of the response actions to combat disease, developed by the Ministry of Health,” she says.
About 44,000 mosquito nets were distributed to 22,000 families in communities and health facilities in this district, thanks to the Ministry of Health.
Protecting children and pregnant women
On a visit to a health facility in Namuwongo, we meet Harriet, 19. She lives in this neighbourhood and studies at Kololo Secondary School in Central Division of Kampala Capital City Authority. Harriet has a 3-month-old girl and lives with her mother in a small one bedroom residence.
She first heard about the use of nets to prevent mosquito bites and malaria at her school. When she was pregnant, she also heard messages about malaria prevention from staff Namuwongo health centre close to her home. The post provides services to an estimated population of 2,000 people. Workers at the centre have been distributing mosquito nets to mothers with children under 5 years of age and pregnant women who come for outpatient consultations.
Recently, one of Harriet’s neighbours who had not been using mosquito nets contracted malaria. Harriet says the nets are very expensive for most of the families in her community, who are just peasant farmers. Instead, they prefer to use cheaper mosquito coils, which are burned to repel insects with their smoke. Elisa doesn’t like to use these coils because they make her cough and do not efficiently prevent mosquito bites and malaria.
“I will recommend friends and neighbours to sleep under mosquito nets because they prevent many diseases. Pregnant women and children should also use them,” she says.
Harriet has been sleeping under a mosquito net since last year, but it was not treated with insecticide when she was pregnant. “That’s why I am grateful to the health post staff who gave me a net treated with insecticide for me and my baby,” she says.
When we ask her what she will do if the donated net gets torn or worn out, she replies, “I would get money to buy a new one because using a net is good for my health.”
Staying inside the house is difficult for Harriet because of the heat, even at night. But she says that despite the high temperatures, she still uses her mosquito net – being uncomfortable is a small price to pay for avoiding malaria.