WASHINGTON, April 24, 2014—With the theme of this year’s World Malaria Day being “Invest in the Future, Defeat Malaria,” there is welcome news out of Africa’s vulnerable Sahel region. Millions of people living in Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal are now being protected from malaria and a number of debilitating neglected tropical diseases. This is the result of better, more coordinated development efforts that cut across different sectors.
While working with these countries to improve water resources management in the Senegal River Basin, the World Bank is also supporting disease control activities associated with water and how it is used to irrigate crops. Irrigation systems are needed to grow more food and fight poverty and hunger, but they can serve as breeding sites for mosquitoes that transmit malaria. Tackling this challenge requires focused efforts across the health and irrigation sectors.
The distribution of 3.1 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets to cover about 5.6 million people during Phase I of the World Bank-financed Senegal River Basin project has produced striking results. The use of these nets to prevent mosquito bites has increased from 28% in 2009 to 46% in 2012, in an area largely populated by poor farmers and their families.
More pregnant women and young children using mosquito nets
Encouragingly, mosquito net usage has risen in the Senegal River Basin among those most vulnerable to the effects of the deadly disease. The share of young children sleeping under nets has risen from 58% in 2009 to 74% in 2012, while among pregnant women, net usage has doubled, from 33% to 65%, in the same period.
This progress is significant because people living in the Senegal River Basin are highly at risk of malaria. At any point in time, about 14% of children and 9% of pregnant women in the area are infected with the disease, which takes a heavy toll on poor families. It can badly sicken or kill young children, cause severe anemia in pregnant women, and reduce productivity among working adults.
Illness and death from malaria are expected to fall as these efforts continue through 2020. This is therefore a pragmatic investment in the future not only for the water sector but also for health.
Project targets universal mosquito net coverage
The current US$220 million Senegal River Basin project, which is Phase 2 of a 10-year program in the region, also includes a built-in $40 million health component.
Alongside increasing water availability for agriculture and food production, supporting aquaculture and fisheries management, and other objectives, the project now aims to achieve universal mosquito net coverage. About 4.5 million people living in the area will be covered, most of whom were not covered in Phase I of the project.
“With a growing population in the Senegal River Basin, much of which is already highly vulnerable to water-related diseases, new infrastructure for water and irrigation should be complemented with simultaneous efforts to reduce public health risks,” said Shelley McMillan, Senior Water Resources Specialist and task team leader for the Senegal River Basin project.
Progress in tackling neglected tropical diseases and improving school health
In addition to malaria prevention, the program has also made considerable headway with preventing a group of diseases called the “neglected tropical diseases” (NTDs). These diseases are included under the project as their transmission is also closely related to water or soil.
During Phase I, the project has already administered over 2 million doses of praziquantel tablets to treat bilharzia, and 7 million doses of albendazole to treat intestinal worms. Over 80% of children in the area were protected from bilharzia and worms.
In Phase II, the program will also tackle onchocerciasis (river blindness) and trachoma, both of which cause blindness, and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis). Going forward, over 2.1 million school-age children and a million adults will receive preventive treatment donated by pharmaceutical companies every year for the NTDs.