BAAM - Buzz Away Against Malaria
Zambia - In July of 2007, David Shaw, Founder of Quantum Health had just returned from a month in Zambia, the African nation that is the first recipient of mosquito nets from Quantum Health's BAAM program. Zambia is perhaps the country most closely watched by malaria experts. It's difficult to comprehend how thoroughly Zambia has been devastated by malaria. In some provinces, at any given moment, more than a third of all children under age five are sick with the disease.
Quantum Health has been raising money to purchase nets through it's internet site. "In order to insure that donations are tax deductible, and that the the nets get in the right hands, we work through Vitamin Angels, a non-profit based in Santa Barbara, CA. Vitamin Angels primary mission is to provide nutrition to those in need and they are especially focused on ending childhood blindness everywhere in the world.," David said.
David met with Malama Muleba, the Executive Director of the Zambia Malaria Foundation, the NGO that is distributing the nets to those in need. Mr. Muleba is a lawyer by trade but has taken on this job out of a strong sense of social duty. "Malama is a man of great energy and vision," David said. "He has accomplished quite a lot with very little. Since he started his in this position, the Foundation has played a key role in bringing in over 500,000 mosquito nets and made vast improvements in the way clinics diagnose and treat malaria victims".
"At any given time, malaria patients represent 60% of the people using our health care system, which is fairly limited. If we can eliminate malaria, we can provide better health care overall, including for those with AIDS," Malama said.
According to Malama, all of Zambia from the army to the Boy Scouts to local theater troupes - has been mobilized to stop malaria. In 1985, the nation's malaria-control budget was 30 thousand dollars. Now, supported with international grant money, it's more than 40 million. Posters have been hung throughout the country, informing people of malaria's causes and symptoms and stressing the importance of medical intervention. There are even Boy Scout merit badges for knowledge about malaria. Zambia's plan is to educate the public, then beat the disease through a three-pronged assault: drugs, sprays, and mosquito nets.
Quantum Health's BAAM program is just one of many that provide mosquito nets.
There's no question that the nets can save lives, especially those impregnated with insecticide. But first they need to reach the people most in need, and then they must be properly used. "Distributing nets to remote villages is a nightmare," says Malama. "It's one thing for me to convince Bill and Melinda Gates to donate money, it's quite another to actually get the nets out." But get the nets out he does, and it is making a difference.
The Zambian army has been employed to help, but even after delivery, people can be reluctant to sleep beneath nets, which make a hot and stuffy part of the world feel hotter and stuffier. If a leg pops out at night or the fabric is torn, mosquitoes can still reach the skin. And the nets are sometimes misused, as fishing gear. Theater troupes are spreading out into the Zambian countryside, emphasizing the proper use of bed nets through stage productions in settlements large and small.
Despite the difficulties, Zambia's campaign has started to produce results. In 2000, a study showed that fewer than 2 percent of children under the age of five slept under an insecticide-treated bed net. Six years later, the number had risen to 23 percent. The government of Zambia says an ACT known as Coartem is now available cost free to the entire population. In a country that was steadily losing 50,000 children a year to malaria, early indications are that the death rate has already been reduced by more than a third.
Four species of malaria parasites infect humans. The worst kind is Plasmodium falciparum causing half the cases worldwide and 95 percent of the deaths. It's the only form of malaria that can attack the brain. And it can do so with extreme speed. An African youth can be happily playing soccer in the morning and dead of falciparum malaria that night. This species is a major reason nearly 20 percent of all Zambian babies do not live to see their fifth birthday. Older children and adults, too, catch the disease - pregnant women are especially prone - but most have developed just enough immunity to fight the parasites to a stalemate, though untreated malaria can persist for years, the fevers fading in and out. There are times when it seems that everyone in Zambia is debilitated to some degree by malaria; many have had it a dozen or more times.
"Africa is a continent rich with natural resources, unique cultures and fantastic potential for the future. Helping to stop malaria will, in the end, help Africa emerge and take its rightful place as a leader in the global community," said David.