An insecticide-treated mosquito net is a sure defence in the battle against malaria.
In Kakamega County, the bed net has helped bring down malaria prevalence from 38 per cent in 2013 to 27 per cent in 2016. However, Eunice Chebet, a clinical officer at the Kakamega County Referral Hospital is worried that these gains could be rolled back as residents find other uses for the nets: Bridal veils, funeral shrouds, window mesh, soccer balls, ropes, chicken cages and kitchen garden fences are now all made from mosquito nets. “Cases of malaria are high because locals are not using the treated nets as a weapon against mosquitoes. They have found other unintended uses for them,” she said during a free medical camp at Bukhungu Stadium. She called on the government to pass a regulation against misuse of the nets.
Kenya seeks to achieve universal coverage of long-lasting insecticide treated nets, to help bring down malaria infection, which accounts for one out of five patients seeking treatment at health facilities, and claimed more than 17,000 lives nationally in 2017.
Millions of nets have been distributed to ensure that each household in 23 endemic and epidemic-prone counties, including Kakamega, has a net for every two people in the home. However, some of those nets are being used for unintended purposes.
This is worrying in Kakamega, where 49 per cent of people tested positive for malaria, and more than 25,000 were admitted to hospital for malaria treatment in 2015. According to Ms Chebet, it doesn’t help that plenty of rainfall has left stagnant pools of water for mosquitoes to breed in and then bite those who are not using bed nets for protection.
It was no wonder that malaria was the most commonly diagnosed ailment at the free medical camp organised by Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala. The other was cancer.
“A number of patients were found to have prostate (men) or cervical (women) cancer. They were referred to the Kakamega County Referral Hospital where they will be attended to by visiting doctors from AMPATH in Eldoret,” said Rita Gachahi, the business development manager at Aga Khan Hospital, which was one of the partners.
Sick residents said they did not have money or health insurance to pay for medical attention.