“Half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria,” said Dr. Nafissa Dan-Bouzoua, medical coordinator for ALIMA. “Despite several years of struggle, we have not seen much progress. While in many countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the treatment for malaria is now free, the supply of available medications is often inadequate.”
Each year, more than 212 million people, the majority of who live in sub-Saharan Africa, suffer from malaria, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Even though malaria is preventable and curable, it continues to claim the lives of nearly half a million people each year – mostly children.
“Preventive actions, such as the use of mosquito nets, seasonal chemoprevention therapy and spraying are all very effective in the fight against malaria,” Dr. Dan-Bouzoua said. “In countries where these activities are well-implemented, we see a significant reduction in the number of cases. Beyond that, by putting in place methods of early diagnosis and offering the correct treatment, we can reduce mortality and improve a patient’s chance of survival.”
Read on to hear some stories from the field:
Four-year-old Boubacar, whose family was displaced by the ongoing conflict in northern Mali and now lives in the Hambar neighborhood of Goundam city, woke up one morning not feeling well. For three days, he suffered from a high fever, headache and constipation. His grandmother took him to the nearby referral health center, where health staff from ALIMA and its partner AMCP (Alliance Médicale Contre le Paludisme) diagnosed Boubacar with malaria. He was admitted to the pediatric ward, where he spent the next few days receiving treatment. Eventually he regained his strength and was discharged in good health.
“If we hadn’t come here, I might have lost another of my grandchildren,” said Alhousna, Boubacar’s grandmother. “It’s because of the care he received here that Boubacar’s condition improved. If I had taken him to a traditional healer, as was the case with my 2-year-old grandson who died, what would have happened? The doctors, the whole team here, they really helped us. They gave us quality care, all free of charge, and provided us with soap and free meals. When we left, they gave us an impregnated mosquito net to bring home. And, thanks to the information sessions, I learned a lot about malaria prevention measures, things I can share with other IDPs.”
Dr. Papys Lame’s Story
“I help with referrals and treatment for malaria at the ITFC [Intensive Therapeutic Feeding Center] and pediatrics ward at the hospital in Makary,” explains Dr. Lame, ALIMA’s medical coordinator in Cameroon. “Most recently, a child was referred to our center on Sunday evening, suffering from severe malaria with anemia. He was immediately admitted by our team. They began treatment right away and also gave a blood transfusion. The child stayed for another three days of treatment and then was sent home, where ambulatory treatment continued.”
“What really stays with me,” Dr. Lame said, “is the change you see in the parents. Upon arrival, the parents of the child are so worried, desperate even. But after, they are so thankful, so relieved, so appreciative.”
When Aicha arrived with her 2-year-old son, Aziz, at the Mirriah District Hospital in southern Niger’s Zinder region, he was barely breathing and experiencing convulsions. Not realizing that her son was suffering from malaria, Aicha had tried treating him with traditional medicine. His conditioned worsened. At last, thanks to the advice of her neighbor whose child had previously been cared for by ALIMA and its partner BEFEN (Bien Être de la Femme et de l’Enfant au Niger), Aicha brought Hamissou to the hospital. He was diagnosed with severe neurological malaria and spent the next two days in a coma.
“I thought he would surely die that day,” Aicha said. “But after 48 hours in the intensive care ward, my child started to recognize me and it was really miraculous for me.”
Aziz spent another three days in the hospital, before being discharged with a clean bill of health.
*Name has been changed
Malaria is an acute febrile illness caused by parasites, which are transmitted via the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Symptoms can include high fever, headache and joint pain. Without rapid diagnosis and treatment, malaria can progress to a serious, even fatal illness. Prevention measures include sleeping under impregnated nets, indoor spraying and avoiding stagnant water. Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention (SMC) another means of prevention, consists of administering monthly doses of antimalarial treatment to children during the rainy season when transmission is highest.
The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) is a medical humanitarian organization that works hand-in-hand with a network of local medical organizations to provide quality medical care to the most vulnerable individuals in emergency situations and recurrent crises. Based in Dakar, Senegal, ALIMA has treated nearly 3 million patients across 12 countries since its creation in 2009, and launched more than a dozen research projects focused on malnutrition, malaria and Ebola.
In 2017, ALIMA’s medical teams treated more than 140,000 people for malaria as outpatients, and hospitalised more than 10,000 children suffering from malaria with complication, across our countries of intervention. In southern Mali, where our teams offer Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention therapy, nearly 325,000 children between 3 months and 5 years of age were protected against the deadly fever. This SMC campaign helped decrease the number of malaria cases during the peak season by 71% in 2017, compared to 2013, the last year before SMC was implemented.
Photo: Xaume Olleros / ALIMA