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Fighting the mosquito menace in India, one net at a time
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Amit Kumar
October 13, 2008

Sleeping is always a gamble in the village of Thengapattinam, along the southern coast of India. You never know when a mosquito bite could cause malaria or another life threatening disease. For Fatima Bibi, this is crucial. As a mother of two, she worries constantly about her children's health.

Two Indian Red Cross volunteers proudly demonstrating
Two Indian Red Cross volunteers proudly demonstrate how to hang a mosquito net as they unfurl one of the many nets that will be given out to community members. Mosquito nets provide a physical barrier against malaria-infected mosquitoes, which bite at night.
An estimated three billion people - almost half the world's population - live in malaria endemic areas. In India, more than two million cases are reported every year. Although there is no vaccine for malaria, it is preventable if proper precautions are taken before the mosquito bites. Several studies have shown that regular use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets can reduce overall mortality rates for children under five years old by about 20 percent in malaria-endemic areas.

"Heavy rains, coupled with other factors, such as numerous mosquito breeding grounds near coconut trees, are making areas vulnerable for malaria and other diseases in coastal villages of Kanyakumari," says Dr. Nirmal Singh, Director of Community Health for the American Red Cross in India.

Community health assessments carried out in 40 targeted villages revealed an urgent need to fight the mosquito menace. To fight this important battle, the Indian Red Cross, with support from the American Red Cross and facilitation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, was awarded a grant from Against Malaria Foundation for the provision of 20,000 insecticide treated mosquito nets.

"We were given 20,000 insecticide-treated nets as a donation through the Federation in Geneva and Against Malaria Foundation, and they are ready to give 10,000 more," says Dr. Vimala Ramalingam, President of the Indian Red Cross Society in Tamil Nadu.

Elaborating further, Dr. Ramalingam said that these nets provide a sleeping individual a physical barrier against malaria-infected mosquitos, which bite at night. In addition, a net treated with insecticide provides much greater protection by repelling or killing mosquitoes that rest on the net-an additional and important protective effect that extends beyond the individual to the community.

In the first phase, beneficiaries of 15 communities will benefit by receiving the nets, including Fatima and her children. As the program progresses, all 40 communities involved in the Integrated Recovery program will also receive nets, providing protection to more than 7,500 families.

"Now my family will be safe from the mosquitoes and we will not fall sick often," added Fatima, with a sigh of relief.

Editorial contributions made by Ramsey Rayyis, Regional Representative, American Red Cross, New Delhi, India and Eric Porterfield, Press Officer, American Red Cross, Washington, DC

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