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2007.04.30
* UNICEF: For children in Sierra Leone, poverty and malaria are a deadly combination * 18 Apr 2007 Walk into any children’s ward in Sierra Leone and you’ll find a room full of anxious mothers watching their sickly sons and daughters struggling to survive. And more often than not, all the children will be battling the same deadly disease – malaria. Marie Fornah has already lost one child to malaria and now her youngest daughter, Rachel, has cerebral malaria – the most virulent strain of the killer disease – and is clinging on to life. SOT: MARIE FORNAH, Mother “It’s a terrible disease. She’s only been sick for two days. Look how helpless she is already. I’m very scared.” Stagnant water and untreated sewage are the perfect breeding ground for a host of serious illnesses – as well as for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. While the disease is also rife in rural areas, years of war and neglect have turned the poorest urban districts into death traps – especially for children who regularly use the rubbish-choked streams as toilet, shower and playground. The result – one of the world’s highest mortality rates for children under 5 mainly from preventable diseases – with malaria accounting for almost 40 percent of these deaths. But there are signs that the situation is changing – and that greater emphasis is now being put on the prevention of malaria rather than simply concentrating on the cure. Insecticide-treated bed nets have long been regarded as the first line of defence – since they drastically reduce the risk of contracting malaria. Sponsored by UNICEF, the distribution of nets will gradually expand to every district in the country, supplying mosquito-proof shelter for tens of thousands of vulnerable women and children. With some families already benefiting from the bed nets…malaria rates are slowly starting to fall. Indeed, in some communities, the nets have proven so effective that their use is now enforced by law… Obviously bed nets are just part of the answer. They can reduce malaria but not eradicate it – especially in a poverty-stricken country like Sierra Leone, which cannot afford the vast sums needed to tackle the real dirty water sources of the disease. But more efficient diagnoses and more effective drugs – as well as enhanced access to treatment – are also starting to make a difference… SOT: Dr. SAMUEL SMITH, Bombali District Medical Officer “Fewer children are actually dying of malaria complications because people have access to health care, awareness is there and they actually report to health care facilities within the first 24 hours after illness. So the deaths due to malaria basically are decreasing according to our records. Reporter question: ‘That’s still obviously a massive challenge.’ -- Indeed it is.” And so is survival for little Rachel, whose life is hanging by a thread. All her mother can do is comfort her and hope that she will not be the latest to
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