UNDP and the Global Fund Provide Malaria Tests and Drugs Where They Are Most Needed

Zabihullah is a tailor in Behsud district, near Jalalabad. “We were given six bed nets: two for me, two for my newly-married brother, and two for my parents,” said Zabihullah. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016

14 November 2016, Jalalabad, Nangarhar – On a scorching July afternoon several years ago, a farmer rushed into a laboratory in downtown Jalalabad with his two-year-old son, Sabawoon, fainting in his arms. “I’m here to test him for malaria!” he blurted out.

Sabawoon had already been sick for two months in his rural village, but no one knew what was wrong. Even though Afghanistan has the fourth-largest malaria burden outside of sub-Saharan Africa, diagnostic facilities were extremely limited. This laboratory in Jalalabad was the only place in the whole province with a track record of diagnosing the most severe form of malaria. Just one sharp-eyed technician and his ageing microscope meant the difference between diagnosis and disaster.

When Sabawoon’s doctors got the result – positive for a severe strain of malaria – they were strangely relieved, because now they knew what to do. With the right treatment, Sabawoon was soon out of a coma and recovered within a week.

Highlights

  • Afghanistan sees around 370,000 cases of malaria every year.
  • Thanks to new test kits, village health workers across Afghanistan can get test for malaria in just 30 minutes.
  • UNDP and the Global Fund are distributing 2.7 million anti-malaria bed nets and drugs for 14,500 clinics.
  • Global Fund experts predict that malaria cases will fall by 85% in 2017.
Zabihullah, a Tailor in Behsud district, near Jalalabad, sets up a bed net provided by UNDP/the Global Fund to protect his family against malaria. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016

These days, things are different. Thanks to new testing kits provided by UNDP and the Global Fund to 14,500 clinics across Afghanistan, village health workers can now prick a villager’s finger and get an accurate blood test in just 30 minutes. In a country with only one physician for every 3,750 people, these kits save lives because they can be used even by local health workers with minimal training.

Afghanistan still sees around 370,000 cases of malaria every year – 80% of them in eastern areas, where an ongoing insurgency has devastated healthcare infrastructure and the humid weather is perfect for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. But today’s cases show how things have progressed since Sabawoon got sick.

A couple of months ago, two-year-old Naser’s mother brought him in to her local clinic, not far from Sabawoon’s village.

“His medicine hadn’t been working so it popped into my head that he could have severe malaria,” says local health worker Ahmad Nawaz.

Ahmad did the test. Thirty minutes later he had a positive result and could start the right treatment – with drugs provided by UNDP and the Global Fund. As well as testing kits, we have distributed medicine for severe malaria to the same 14,500 clinics.

Kids inside a UNDP supported bed net. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016


“The health worker gave him four pills,” explains Naser’s father, Zabihullah. “He took a big and a small pill on day one, and the rest on the following days. Three days later he was better.”

The testing kit and the medicine probably saved Naser’s life. But to stop kids like him getting malaria in the first place, we are also distributing 2.7 million anti-malaria bed nets. In Nangarhar, more than 400,000 have already been given out.

Naser was given six nets, and these should keep his whole family safe – kids, parents and grandparents –  for the next four years. They will also help to protect the neighbours, because the nets are impregnated with an insecticide that kills mosquitoes.

“After mass bed net distributions in 2010 and 2012, there was a huge drop in malaria cases,” recalls Dr Nangialai Spinghar, a Ministry of Public Health Provincial Malaria Coordinator. “But it reemerged after distribution was put on hold.”

But with bed nets once again going out across the country, Global Fund experts predict that cases will fall by 85% in 2017. That’s good news for tomorrow’s Sabawoons and Nasers.

UNDP has been selected as the Principal Recipient for four Global Fund grants: TB, health system strengthening, HIV/AIDS and malaria. Our work to support the provision of public health services in these areas includes advocacy, education and technical support for better diagnosis, treatment and associated care so that patients can enjoy empowered and dignified lives.