World Malaria Day was this week and unfortunately, although a preventable disease, malaria still kills many people in the developing world. At the children’s hospital I work at, we see malaria cases everyday. Some cases are very severe; the children are literally on death’s doorstep and other cases are mild and improve with oral medication. As you can imagine, the disease has a major impact on child health in Sierra Leone.
In November of last year, we had 999 inpatients in the hospital and in that month (as often is the case) malaria was the most common reason for admission, followed by chest infections, diarrheal disease and anemia (unrelated to malaria). Sadly, children die at the hospital on a daily basis. In November, 54% of the hospital deaths were attributed to malaria. In November 67 children died at the children’s hospital as a result of complicated malaria. We obviously have our work cut out for us. Having said that, I do believe that the staff at Ola During Children’s Hospital (ODCH) are working hard to do their part in combating malaria. The staff, management and partners of ODCH and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation must be commended for their ongoing efforts to improve healthcare. The laboratory has definitely improved and more blood smears are being examined for malaria. Thanks to one of the partners in the hospital, malaria treatment is readily available. Improvements in the triage and emergency system mean that children receive their treatment more promptly. There is still a lot to be done, but progress is being made.
The theme for the fourth World Malaria Day is Achieving Progress and Impact. The theme recognizes the international community’s renewed efforts to make progress towards near zero malaria deaths by 2015. We’re not there yet, but I like to believe that things are improving. Hopefully the country of Sierra Leone can tackle issues like: distribution and use of insecticide treated nets, prompt diagnosis, appropriate treatment, etc. Various barriers play a role, such as: cultural/traditional ideas impacting use of nets and quick presentation of child to a health facility, lack of experienced laboratory technicians, lack of rapid diagnostic tests, inconsistent supply of ACT medication or quinine, etc.
Hopefully, health education in the communities, training in health facilities (lab and medical staff), and improved supply chain will decrease the number of deaths related to malaria in Sierra Leone. The day that there are near-zero malaria deaths in the country will be a day to celebrate for sure. Count me in.
Sandra Lako is a doctor from the Netherlands who previously spent four and a half years in Sierra Leone setting up and managing a pediatric outpatient clinic with an organisation called Mercy Ships. After a year at home, she returned to Sierra Leone to volunteer as medical coordinator with the Welbodi Partnership, a UK based charity supporting the only government-run children’s hospital in a country where 1 in 5 children do not reach the age of five.