Mosquito nets: “No ordinary distribution” for World Vision Zambia

Today we’re excited to share a story from written by Cathy Kralik, World Vision International’s Partnership Communications Manager about an exciting distribution of mosquito nets in Zambia.

Issue: How to get 1.5 million rural Zambians to use mosquito nets to help wipe out malaria. Answer: House calls.

From March to November 2011, swarms of dedicated, World Vision-trained volunteers and community health workers visited every household and bed space in Zambia’s malaria endemic, high-risk northern and eastern regions, bringing with them more than one million long-lasting insecticidal nets to achieve universal coverage of residents.

“This was no ordinary distribution,” said Ronald Pongolani, who runs WV Zambia’s distribution centre in Lusaka. Photo: World Vision.

World Vision’s involvement in the massive distribution was substantial. Staff from Sustainability through Economic Strengthening, Prevention and Support for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, Youth and other Vulnerable Populations (STEPS OVC) donated nets, trained volunteers and health centre workers to hang nets properly, and monitored the distribution. Experienced World Vision drivers also played a critical role. Using three 17-tonne trucks donated by US toy company Hasbro Inc., drivers transported up to 200 bales of bed nets (20,000) per trip, travelling long distances and navigating difficult terrain, which made it possible to distribute the nets within the targeted period.

“This was no ordinary distribution,” said Ronald Pongolani, who runs WV Zambia’s distribution centre in Lusaka. “The drivers would go out for eight days at a time, making big personal sacrifices. They drove on difficult roads that are used only by oxcarts. They often stayed overnight with the nets until they could securely deliver them to health centres. But it was worth it because they felt part and parcel of the fight against malaria in Zambia.”

While having the nets is critical, educating the community on how to use them and monitoring usage also is key.  In the past, people would use insecticidal nets as fishing nets, rather than life-saving tools. With this door-to-door distribution, volunteers physically hung the bed nets in sleeping spaces to ensure proper usage. Trained community volunteers have also documented residents, and their sleeping spaces and are monitoring sample groups on an on-going basis to ensure proper use.

Going the extra mile to train volunteers to physically hang the nets has made a big difference, according to Wambinji Kapelwa, an epidemiologist at Zambia’s National Malaria Control Centre (NMCC). “The NMCC has noted the efforts World Vision has put in to make sure that household owners are encouraged to increase not only ownership but utilisation as well,” he said. “World Vision had to include hammers, nails, strings etc., which is likely to increase the utilisation rate, which is very important for transmission control using bed nets.  This measure, if emulated by other partners in their distribution strategies, will increase both coverage and utilisation.”

Malaria remains a major public health problem and development challenge in Zambia, currently amounting to nearly four million clinically diagnosed cases per year. The bed net distribution, which is expected to greatly reduce new cases of the disease, is part of the “Roll Back Malaria” partnership which includes World Vision STEPS OVC, USAID, WHO, UNICEF and the Zambian Ministry of Health National Malaria Control Centre, among others.

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