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New hope for eradicating malaria in Africa

A house provides shelter, security and a sense of well-being. Can a house also prevent the spread of malaria? Studies show that it can, and Habitat for Humanity is carrying out programs to do just that.

In 1976, the World Health Organization abandoned its program to try to end malaria in Africa, because it was thought the continent’s size and its predominantly tropical climate made eradication impossible. However, recent statistics have sparked hope and returned efforts to control the disease to the global health agenda. Malaria kills about 627,000 people annually, most of them in Africa and mainly children younger than 5 in sub-Saharan Africa. World Malaria Day, celebrated annually on April 25, was instituted by WHO member states during the World Health Assembly of 2007 and highlights the need for continued investment and sustained commitment for malaria prevention and control.

Earlier this year, the African Leaders Malaria Alliance presented awards to seven African countries for their exemplary leadership in malaria control: Swaziland, São Tomé and Principe, Rwanda, Namibia, Malawi, Madagascar and Cape Verde. Each had maintained at least 95 percent coverage of long-lasting insecticidal nets or indoor residual spraying interventions throughout the past year.

Armando Guebuza, the president of Mozambique and the chair of ALMA, said the continent must continue to make progress against the deadly disease.

“We cannot lose ground in our struggle to end preventable deaths and suffering from malaria,” Guebuza said. “Our people and our communities are counting on us to continue to scale proven interventions to ensure that no African loses their livelihood or life to this ancient disease.”

Habitat for Humanity has incorporated the distribution of malaria nets into several of its housing programs in Africa. Habitat Uganda and Habitat Malawi provide treated mosquito nets to the beneficiaries of their orphans and vulnerable groups programs, a precious gift in areas where thousands are affected and die annually. Habitat works on the premise that clean, warm housing is essential for prevention and care of diseases of poverty, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, diarrhea and malaria (2.)

In Uganda, caregivers and older orphans and vulnerable children receive training to understand the causes of the disease and to learn basic prevention. Insecticide-treated mosquito nets are provided, and Habitat partner organizations teach families how to care for malaria patients. An Emory University research study (3.) on Habitat’s work in Malawi found the organization’s housing construction improved the health of young children just as much as had water and sanitation programs. The study found that children younger than 5 living in Habitat houses had 44 percent less malaria and respiratory or gastrointestinal diseases compared with children living in traditional houses.

In December 2013, the World Malaria Report declared the scaling-up of malaria control interventions had saved an estimated 3.1 million lives in Africa since 2000 and reduced malaria mortality rates by 49 percent.

The need, however, is still great. Malaria continues to burden fragile health systems, causes absenteeism in schools, affects agriculture and maligns Africa’s economy (the effect is estimated at $12 billion a year).

“We need to do much more,” Guebuza said. “And therefore we are urging more stakeholders to join this struggle.”

 

 

1. R. Carter, K.N. Mendis. “Evolutionary and Historical Aspects of the Burden of Malaria.” Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 2002; 15: 564-94. 

2. D. Kissick, et al, “Housing for All: Essential for Economic, Social, and Civic Development,” a 28-page manuscript prepared for the World Urban Forum III by PADCO/AECOM.

3 Christopher G. Wolff, et al., “The Effect of Improved Housing on Illness in Children Under Five Years Old in Northern Malawi: Cross-Sectional Study,” BMJ, vol. 322, 2001.