The United Nations Foundation, Nothing But Nets and The Humpty Dumpty Institute led a senior Congressional Staff Delegation (see participant list) to Yaoundé, Cameroon to be a part of that country’s first ever nationwide malaria net campaign.
Singer/actress Mandy Moore joined the delegation as the Nothing But Nets Ambassador to create greater awareness for the launch of a campaign to give away 8.6 million malaria nets to the people of Cameroon.
The delegation started on Wednesday morning, August 10, with a meeting at the Ministry of Health where the group of Congressional Staff was briefed by the Minister of Public Health, André Mama Fouda, and several key officials working on the malaria issue. This meeting brought to light not only the obvious health issues, but also the economic concerns of malaria. In Cameroon, over 2 million cases in the health care system and 26% of sick leave is due to malaria, causing a strain on the health care system and the country’s workforce. Malaria related spending accounts for about 40% of an annual household’s health budget. Many affected by malaria are also under five years old, which means Cameroon worries about losing its future leaders.
Following this meeting, the delegation had a working lunch with officials from the United Nations Development Program involved in the nationwide net distribution. Congressional staffers learned about the challenges posed by the delivery of the nets. Weather and road conditions often prove to be significant obstacles to delivering nets in a speedy fashion. Some nets will have to be brought in to villages on donkeys and bicycles. Another concern is having an accurate count of how many nets go to each different village. To ensure this, a census is taken to see exactly how many are needed for each household before distribution occurs. Following the census each household is given one voucher for every two people. Villages then hand in these vouchers to receive a net once the launch takes place. Once the mosquito nets are handed out, the government, U.N. agencies and other organizations will spend time educating the country on how to use the nets to effectively prevent malaria.
After lunch, the delegation witnessed the tragic result of not having malaria nets when it visited the Chantal Biya Foundation’s hospital for children. Delegation members spoke with children, families and doctors who run the facility. The delegation was informed on how difficult it is to spot malaria because it first appears as a mild fever. Parents in Cameroon with young children are encouraged to seek medical attention as soon as their child exhibits a fever in an attempt to catch malaria at an early stage.
The next day in Cameroon, Thursday, August 11, the staffers began their day with a trip out to the rural village of Ebanga to learn how malaria is treated with the aid of a volunteer community health worker. A volunteer health worker is someone already living in the village who is on call around the clock to the people of the village. This person is selected by the community and then trained by the Community Based Management of Malaria Control program run by Population Services International and the Canadian International Development Agency. The delegation met with a family whose young daughter was saved because she was treated immediately by the community health worker. Without this volunteer, the parents would have lost their only child. Now they are happy to report the malaria net has prevented their daughter from contracting malaria a second time.
From the village the staffers went to a working lunch with Country Coordinating Mechanism members of Cameroon. This group is responsible for working with the Global Fund, another organization actively raising funds to combat malaria, and other organizations tracking the health implications of malaria on Cameroon. During lunch, the group discussed the many challenges doctors have in healing malaria and the effects that the disease has on the country’s children and health care system as a whole. The health professionals explained that malaria is responsible for over 40% of doctor’s visits. After lunch the delegation prepared for a meeting with Cameroon’s Prime Minister, Philemon Yang. He thanked the Congressional Staffers and Mandy Moore for coming to the country and being a part of the launch to prevent malaria and expressed his plans for a more prosperous Cameroon.
Friday, August 12, was the delegation’s last day in Cameroon and started with a final briefing at the United States Embassy to Cameroon by the Deputy Chief of Mission, Lisa Peterson. Participants were reassured that the country was on the right track with the upcoming nationwide net distribution. The final stop was a visit to an orphanage where the staffers hung vital malaria nets in several rooms for the children. The staffers did not want to leave as they played and got to know the children who will depend heavily on the nets they were putting up.
Mr. Steven Shearer – Chief of Staff, Representative Aaron Schock ( R-IL)
Ms. Julie Nickson – Chief of Staff, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Mr. Richard Hudson – Chief of Staff, Representative Mike Conaway (R-TX)
Ms. Rachel Dresen – Legislative Director, Representative Ben Quayle (R-AZ)
Ms. Jenn Holcom – Legislative Assistant, Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN)
Ms. Jessica J. Lee – Legislative Assistant, Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA)
Mr. Michael Shank – Communications Director/Senior Policy Advisor, Representative Mike Honda (D-CA)