CONGO: Free anti-malaria drug campaign gaining ground

Friday, August 8, 2008

Free anti-malaria medicine will soon become a reality for children younger than five and pregnant mothers after the launch of the first phase of countrywide trials to promote access to the drugs in health centres, government officials have said.

“[Since last May] we have conducted the first trials in 27 health centres around the country as part of our programme to provide the drugs to children and pregnant women,” François Libama, the director for the National Programme to Fight Malaria (PNLP), said.

He said another 38 health centres had been included. “That adds up to 65,” he said. The campaign was targeting 244 health centres countrywide by year-end.

“Currently, we are providing medicine to treat the simple forms of malaria in the health centres; in the second year, we will address the more serious forms in the hospitals,” Libama said.

The free anti-malaria treatment campaign was officially launched in Brazzaville on 15 July this year.

The government had received 272,000 boxes of anti-malaria drugs from an Indian pharmaceutical company, CIPLA, according to the Minister for Health, Social Affairs and the Family, Emilienne Raoul.

Malaria is the leading cause of death among children younger than five in the Congo, with at least 21,000 dying each year, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the PNLP in Congo.
The disease is also the leading cause of clinic attendance among children, said the PNLP.

UNICEF estimates that at least 5 percent of pregnant women and children younger than five sleep under a treated mosquito net. In 2007, the Congolese government distributed 525,686 insecticide-treated nets as part of an integrated health campaign that also targeted measles and malnutrition in children younger than five.

The fight against malaria is among the country’s national priorities, in line with various development strategies such as the strategy for the reduction of poverty, the National Health Development Plan and Millennium Development Goals.

In 2007, President Denis Sassou Nguesso waived anti-malarial treatment costs for pregnant women and children younger than five. In December, he extended the directive to all children younger than 15.