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Preventing Malaria in Refugee Communities

Preventing Malaria in Refugee Communities

Refugees and displaced people face many challenges fleeing dangerous situations throughout the world. United Nations agencies, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), are having trouble meeting the needs of refugees as a result of the global refugee crisis. With more than 60 million people displaced worldwide, conditions in camps throughout the world are deteriorating, particularly as a result of a lack of food, clean water and healthcare. Refugees face many healthcare challenges, including high rates of malaria transmission, especially in countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa.  

Over half of world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria, a disease transmitted by the bite of a mosquito. Malaria causes 438,000 deaths annually, the majority of which occur in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2015, there were an estimated three million refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, and there are multiple factors that can make people living in refugee camps more vulnerable to malaria transmission and death. These factors include: the fact that location and conditions in refugee camps are often optimal for mosquitos to breed; children and pregnant women, who make up a large portion of the refugee population, are more susceptible to illness from malaria; malnourishment, often found in these camps, leads to a weakened immune system, and therefore increased risk of death from malaria.

Refugees, who are already forced to flee their homes for refugee camps, and thus already face many challenges, should not have to face a disease such as malaria, which is both preventable and treatable. That is why, Nothing But Nets, a global grassroots campaign to raise awareness and funding to fight malaria, has worked with UNHCR for the past six years to send over one million bed nets to refugees to countries throughout Africa. Bed nets have been shown to be the most effective tool in the fight against malaria, because they cut off the parasite’s life cycle by preventing transmission to humans. Because the female mosquitos that carry malaria feed primarily at night, bed nets protect humans from mosquitos during their peak feeding time. As a result of these efforts, malaria has dropped from the leading killer of refugees worldwide to the fifth. These statistics show the great impact that covering refugee camps with nets can have, and highlight the importance of continued work to increase the use of bed nets.

Although malaria is not a disease that many of us are familiar with in North America, it does not mean that we can ignore the great impact is has on communities throughout the world. In Mishnah Sanhedrin we are taught, “One who safes a life, it is as if one saves an entire world” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). Sending just one bed net can save a life, and covering an entire refugee camp can save an entire community. Millions of malaria cases have been prevented as a result of bed nets.

Last year, Nothing But Nets participated in an emergency net distribution of 60,000 for refugees in Cameroon. This distribution included emergency assistance to Nigerian refugees, as a result of an influx of refugees at the Minawao camp fleeing Boko Haram. It is because of the support of Nothing But Nets donors and partners that they were able to respond to the pressing need for life-saving nets.

World Malaria day is coming up on April 25, when people across the globe will take part in a wide range of activities related in ending malaria. Take action this World Malaria day, host a fundraiser for Nothing But Nets, urge your representatives to support funding for funding for anti-malarial programs, or donate to Nothing But Nets. To learn more visit rac.org/nets

Rachel Landman is the assistant director of 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy in Byfield, MA, where she ran the inaugural summer Israel program, which focused on exploring Israel through the lens of science and technology. She holds a degree in biology from Hamilton College and served as an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. She is an alumna of URJ Crane Lake Camp and grew up at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue in Brooklyn, NY. 

Rachel Landman

Published: 4/12/2016