Laos: Winning the war on malaria

Improvements in infrastructure and treatment are gradually eliminating the disease.

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    Healthcare workers show villagers how to impregnate 
    bed nets with a chemical mosquito repellent
    Malaria was once the leading cause of death in Laos but now it is slowly being eliminated due to improvements in infrastructure and the introduction of combination drug therapy.

    Al Jazeera drove south from the capital, Vientianne, where five years ago there would have been malaria cases in every village along the road.

    Laos has used international funds to improve the road network across the country giving people better access to healthcare facilities. It is also sending health workers to far-flung villages to conduct awareness programmes.

    We visited the village of Savannakhet where residents are learning how to "impregnate" their bed nets with a chemical mosquito repellent and the message seemed to be getting through.

    When asked how many of the villagers had suffered from malaria only one man raised his hand.

    Improved strategy

    Factfile: Malaria

    The World Health Organisation says that malaria kills 1.2 million people a year

    The disease kills one person every 28 seconds

    One million deaths a year are children under five - 900,000 of those are in sub-Saharan Africa

    Malaria is estimated to cost Africa more than $12bn in lost GDP

    Source: World Health Organisation

    The health workers are also teaching them to self-diagnose, and self-medicate, only the serious cases are passed on to health centres.

    Further south we visited a district hospital which today gets only three malaria patients a day, in contrast to 20 that it received daily 5 years ago.

    Vong Deuan, a school teacher, had been keeping vigil by her four-year old son Chun for twenty-four hours. She had taken precautions to protect her son against malaria but he still got bitten by a mosquito.

    "Of course I'm scared. I know people die from malaria but I also know there is a cure," she said.

    Fifty-year old Phou Vilaysone had malaria for the fourth time but is certain he will be cured again because the government is providing new combination-drug therapy known as ACT. It is a more expensive treatment but also more effective.

    There are still not enough health centres in Laos but doctors say they are winning the fight against malaria and with continued international aid, they hope to eradicate malaria in the next twenty years.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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