Surfaid’s government liaison and medical consultant, Dr Saiful Sofjan, said malaria in the Mentawai Islands is caused mainly by Plasmodium falciparum, the most serious blood parasite that, without proper treatment, is fatal.
Surfaid is resuming its landmark Malaria Free Mentawai (MFM) program on a major scale after the last widespread rollout in 2007-2008.
The insecticide-treated malaria nets have a lifespan of about five years before they need to be replaced.
Surfaid’s Country Director Anne Wuijts said malaria is a communicable disease which remains a community health problem around the world, including Indonesia.
“This disease has a high rate of morbidity and mortality in babies, children under five and pregnant mothers,” Wuijts said. “The incidence of malaria in Indonesia is still high, and efforts need to be made to decrease it.”
Wuijts said key steps that can help decrease the incidence of malaria are increasing the awareness and knowledge of the community about the disease, and promoting behaviour and practices that lead to malaria prevention.
“The Mentawai Islands are an area with difficult geographical factors which make it hard to access and this situation contributes to making malaria control and prevention efforts more difficult,” she said.
Since the inception of the Surfaid malaria program in 2000, Surfaid has delivered more than 60,000 nets and malaria education to over 300 villages in the Mentawai and Nias islands. This includes emergency relief work after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and major earthquakes in the region, where people were displaced from their homes into temporary shelters.
“It's a life-threatening complication that affects the central nervous system, causes seizure, loss of consciousness and coma, or it's a symptom that appears as a high fever, shivers, severe anaemia and other blood related problems,” Dr Saiful said.
“This disease decreases the freshness of life, and deducts from the welfare and productivity level of the community in the Mentawai.”
The Surfaid MFM program manager Rintis said a new rollout of the program is due. “The Mentawai Health Department analysed malaria blood samples from March 2008 until February 2010 in several designated areas served by seven puskesmas (public health centres), and the sampling indicated that the incidence of malaria is still high,” Rintis said.
In the previous program rollout, Surfaid reached nearly 90 per cent of the then 70,000 population - in some extremely remote areas. Specialised Surfaid teams transported the nets up rivers by dugout canoe and hauled them through dense jungle to reach many of the isolated communities. The teams would sleep in the villages to rollout their education program, distribute the nets to each household and conduct parasite testing.
Surfaid now has a plan to implement a MFM Program for three years from November 2012. “The main activities will be similar to the previous program, with some modifications based on discussions with the Mentawai Health Department in order to support the national Elimination of Malaria 2020 program in Sumatra,” Rintis said.
“We fully support the national program as it is very difficult to implement national initiatives in remote areas like the Mentawai Islands, which lie 150km off the coast of Sumatra,” she said.
Surfaid’s Malaria Free Mentawai program is also supporting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.