Burundi: Mosquito nets reduce malaria and keep farmers farming (Syfia Grands Lacs)

| April 18, 2011

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Until recently, the cool northern region of Burundi has been spared from the worst ravages of malaria. NGOs have distributed mosquito nets. But inhabitants of Ngozi province often sold the nets. Some used them to cover their chicken pens, while others used them as fishing nets.

But in the last few years, temperatures have been rising. So has the incidence of malaria. Residents who did not see the usefulness of mosquito nets are now changing their minds.

Juvenal lives in Ngozi. He received an insecticide-treated mosquito net from a Catholic NGO. Then he was approached by a man wanting to buy his net. He says, “Only someone who does not understand how we get malaria would sell their mosquito net today!”

This attitude is new in the region. Nahayo Tharcice is a doctor in Muyinga, a neighbouring province. He says, “During the last two years, malaria has increased. With increasing temperature, there are more mosquitoes. People did not know how to protect themselves properly.”

Juvenal suffered with malaria four times during the first quarter of 2010. Unable to work, he missed the second cropping season in January and February. For the first time, he had to buy foods such as beans and sweet potatoes. He struggled to feed his family of six, and had to sell four goats. His neighbour lost two children to malaria.

Now almost everyone protects themselves with mosquito nets. Juma lives in a small village in Kayanza province, to the west of Ngozi. Eighty per cent of families there sleep under a mosquito net. Nets are found even in the smallest dwellings. Juma says, “With the sound of these insects and the fear of being bitten, it’s impossible to sleep without it [a net]! I look forward to the morning, seeing the dead mosquitoes stuck on my net!”

Since people began using nets correctly, the incidence of malaria has reduced. According to the owner of a nearby clinic, about 25 per cent of clinic patients in February were suffering from malaria. Two years ago, malaria accounted for 70 percent of clinic patients. In the hardest hit areas, mobile clinics were set up to treat people at home. NGOs still distribute nets, but often do not have enough for everyone in a large family. Families can buy them in the market for US$5 each.

Farmers used to think mosquito nets were only for wealthy people, or people in the capital, Bujumbura. But now, many farmers use them. They appreciate the fact that using nets, and therefore avoiding malaria, means that their farming activities are not disrupted. And that they can continue to feed their families.