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World Malaria Day: the Red Cross works toward a malaria free Aceh

Junita is very proud of her role as a Red Cross health volunteer in Tuwie Kareng, Indonesia. “I have seen the positive change in my neighborhood,” she says, “they [residents] now prefer to sleep under a mosquito net and keep their houses and yards clean and dry.”

After a Red Cross health assessment identified malaria as a primary concern in Tuwie Kareng, Junita, along with other village health volunteers received extensive training on malaria transmission, prevention, identification, and care through a Community Based Health and First Aid (CBHFA) project implemented by the American Red Cross and it’s Indonesian counterpart, the Indonesian Red Cross (Palang Merah Indonesia or PMI).

Half of the world's population is at risk for malaria and in Indonesia alone, over 1 million people are already affected by malaria and hundreds die from it annually.

April 25 is World Malaria Day— a day of unified commemoration of the global effort to provide effective control of malaria around the world. It is a day to both acknowledge the successes of the global malaria community in delivering effective and affordable protection and treatment to scores of people at risk of malaria, and raise awareness of all the work that is left to do to eradicate this preventable disease.

The World Health Organization has identified the continued presence of Malaria in Indonesia as a community health program, and in April 2000 Indonesia joined the Roll Back Malaria Global partnership. Since then efforts to combat malaria in Indonesia have included mass treatment and fever surveys, spraying of houses with insecticide and draining potential insect breeding places.

To help this effort to reduce the number of malaria cases in Indonesia, the Red Cross is working to combat malaria in tsunami-affected communities, as part of its five-year recovery plan. The project aims to reduce the incidence of and mortality rate from malaria in 51 villages throughout four districts (Aceh Jaya, Sabang, Banda Aceh and Bireun) of Aceh province.

Since the start of CBHFA, more than 750 village health volunteers have been trained and have disseminated malaria related information to almost 4,000 high-risk community members through community level health education sessions, household visits, disseminating educational materials, community sign boards and radio campaigns.

“PMI, through its volunteer network at the community level, is playing a very important role in filling the gap between the health center and the household level”, explains Dr. Ayham Alomari, head of programs for the American Red Cross in Indonesia. “In coordination with local health centers, PMI volunteers provide health education sessions through radio and religious meetings as well as carrying out household visits to promote malaria prevention.”

As a village health volunteer, Junita is responsible for introducing issues related to malaria to her neighbors both through facilitating “health education sessions” at the local community center and health care clinic, and by visiting individual households to disseminate the information she has learned.

During these household visits, she checks whether families have a long-lasting insecticide treated mosquito net and confirms if nets are being used correctly by the appropriate family members. She advises them to use mosquito repellant, wear long sleeves and put screens on their open windows to minimize risk.

Junita also teaches others in her community how to reduce potential mosquito breeding grounds, which can decrease the transmission of both malaria and dengue fever. Finally, she reminds families of the importance of bringing suspected cases of malaria to the health clinic for prompt testing and treatment.

Village volunteers like Junita coordinate closely with the district health officers, planning joint public health campaigns in malaria control. They are tasked with reporting cases of people suffering from a fever for more than three days to the public health center so that the individuals can receive appropriate treatment.

Junita plans to continue conducting educations sessions about malaria and other health topics, such as acute respiratory infections and diarrhea, for her neighbors with the support of American Red Cross and PMI.

Aceh Province’s health officials are targeting for the province to be malaria free by 2015. Thanks to the work of Red Cross volunteers, like Junita, this goal can be achieved.