SurfAid International today announced the launch of the Malaria Free Mentawai program, the largest initiative in the seven-year history of the humanitarian aid organisation.
The Mentawai Island chain, which lies off West Sumatra, Indonesia, has a population of approximately 70,000 people. Up to 50 per cent of people carry the malaria parasite at any one time and it is responsible for many deaths and extensive suffering. Malaria weakens the immune system, turning other common illnesses, like diarrhea and chest infections, into killers.
Research by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) shows that 53 per cent of Mentawai families have lost at least one child to illness before they reach the age of 12. SurfAid International Medical Director and Founder, Dr Dave Jenkins, said the launching of the Malaria Free Mentawai campaign was the culmination of much hard work over the past five years.
“This campaign is a major step towards fulfilling our dreams to get every child and adult in the Mentawai Islands sleeping under the new, long-lasting insecticide nets that will save many lives and prevent extreme human suffering,” Dr Jenkins said. “This was a vision shared by the head of the Mentawai Health Department, Dr Ifdil Gusti, and myself when SurfAid started seven years ago.”
Dr Jenkins said the project represented a great example of the power of partnerships. “With the co-operation of the health department and UNICEF, and project funding from NZAID, Billabong and Lonely Planet, we have begun a multi-year project to control malaria throughout the entire 203 villages in the Mentawai,” he said.
“This will elevate SurfAid’s impact to a much higher level and we owe many thanks to everyone in our determined organisation – including the entire surfing tribe who we represent – for creating a unique and ultimately positive legacy in this truly magical place.”
Besides distributing the treated mosquito nets, a critical component in the program is to provide education about malaria and the proper use of the nets. It is estimated the SurfAid teams will spend at least four days in each of the 203 Mentawai villages distributing nets to each family, teaching, conducting surveys and testing for parasites. And there is much follow-up work in years to come to re-test and analyse the results.
SurfAid has chartered a 90-foot boat, the Indo Jiwa, to transport and accommodate the field staff and large cargo of mosquito nets and equipment, with smaller boats being used to access the villages via mangroves, beaches and rivers. Access is difficult and dangerous to many villages and some are only accessible at high tide. There are few roads in the Mentawai so boat is the best means of transport.
SurfAid was the first organisation to run formal scientific trials of malaria control in the region in two pilot villages, which extended to 22 villages. The trials showed that a major reduction in malaria transmission is possible utilising new, long lasting insecticide nets and community-wide malaria education.
SurfAid has launched an appeal to raise money for this ongoing program, which will continue until 2011. Donations can be made via SurfAid’s website: www.surfaidinternational.org