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Sending anti-malaria nets to refugees in Ethiopia

December 3, 2009

Elizabeth McKee Gore, the UN Foundation’s executive director of global partnerships, just wrapped up an extensive trip to Ethiopia, which brought her from rural villages to urban centers to everywhere in between. And while it’s hard to re-create such a dynamic trip in words, Elizabeth is doing exactly that with a blog series on her incredible experiences.

Elizabeth’s on-the-ground stories capture just how far the work of the UN Foundation and its UN partners reaches, whether in health or education, refugees or adolescent girls, peacekeeping or clean water. Take a minute to read these posts, and learn how the United Nations Foundation is creating a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world. (Read the seventh post here.)




Standing in Mai-Aini refugee camp in Ethiopia, I was reminded why it is imperative that the UN Foundation fills a vital gap in malaria funding by providing anti-malaria bed nets, the most cost-effective method of malaria prevention, to refugees in Africa. Mai-Aini, a camp on the Ethiopia–Eritrea border, hosts 10,000 refugees with 1,200 new people arriving per day from the turbulent country of Eritrea.

When the UN Foundation learned that malaria is the largest killer of refugees in Africa, we immediately paid attention. We also learned that no other major funders were focused on ensuring malaria control within UNHCR facilitated refugee camps.

The United Nations has put forth a goal to eliminate all malaria deaths by 2015. This goal says ALL, which also includes refugees. In response to this need, the UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign asked its partners and supporters to raise awareness and funds for the 15 countries in Africa that host refugee camps in malaria-endemic areas.  

Over a year later, the U.S. public has provided close to $7 million to send much-needed bed nets to the most vulnerable population in the world. We had the privilege of working with the religious leaders of the camp to facilitate a bed net distribution and training on malaria prevention. The religious leaders came to show that they think malaria prevention is important. 

Mai-Aini camp is unique because it is mostly men. Where we are used to seeing a majority of women and children in refugee camps, Mai-Aini hosts 80 percent men and boys due to the mandatory life service in the military that starts at age 15 in Eritrea and causes many to flee the country. In terms of malaria, this causes the need for more nets than normal. Where we are used to entire families sleeping under nets, each male has their own sleeping space, so we have to provide a net for each individual. 

The next day, we distributed bed nets in another UNHCR camp called Shimelba. More than 15,000 people live in the Shimelba and the largest cause of morbidity and clinic visits is malaria. Women and children lined up in the blazing sun to receive nets. Afterwards we were able to visit homes to ensure that nets were properly hung over beds. 

Everyone in both camps risked their lives to get across the border to receive the freedom that many of us take for granted. It is vital that we help to keep them safe from something as small and trivial as a mosquito bite.

To support this initiative and send nets to refugees, please donate to Nothing But Nets here.

* Photo credit: David Evans