It is the wet season in Ghana. At the onset of the rains, when there is new vegetation (grass, plants and other species growing), it brings with it different insects; some of which are crawling insects such as the caterpillars, and yet others are biting and sucking insects such as the mosquito. Typically, every wet season is a mosquito season!
What this means is that, rain water serves as breeding havens for these insects to thrive well under wet and damp environments. A big lesson I have learnt from working in the area of development (health and sustainable development) is that every problem is interconnected to another. When people in Ghana are sick from malaria, it affects their social, health and economic outcome since they are not able to attend school, go to the market or even seek employment. This at the macro level has an impact on the productivity of the country. It is therefore very important to tackle the root cause of malaria.
Several efforts are being made by donor agencies such as WHO and DFID to provide insecticide treated bed nets to people in rural communities in Ghana to improve their health. This is a laudable effort in the health care front.
However, for a start, we have to ask ourselves what are the climatic and environmental risk and opportunities?
We need to consider where and how these bed nets were manufactured. Is there any way that the local capacity of the target country can be enhanced to produce their own bed nets instead of shipping these nets from abroad? This is where I believe there should be a shift of the goal post of donor agencies. Secondly, is there a way to obtain locally, insecticides that are used to treat the nets to prevent mosquitoes from biting at night? My experience as a development worker shows that the bed nets have to be treated with insecticides at least every three months. The challenge most households are often faced with is getting money to go to the “treatment centres’ where their nets can be treated. It comes as no surprise then, that some households never treat their bednets once they were acquired whilst others use crude means of treatment such as using DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) to prolong the lifespan of the bed nets. The consequences of which are very severe if not fatal.
Thirdly, since most households do not have money to put aside for treating the bed nets, this becomes an ornamental decoration in the home never to be used for its stated purpose. Could this be another donor aid wasted? What then could be a solution to this teething problem? There should be free treatment of bed nets or at least discounted rates at the household or community level by community volunteers alongside regular radio announcements encouraging households to do so. Furthermore, local solutions (insecticides) should be found pertaining to the local problems (lack of money) of not sleeping under bed nets.
Evidently, thinking about the interconnectedness of development challenges, we must also think about how to address waste management and drainage. The amount of standing water that gathers in cans, bottles, and broken cooking vessels among others is alarming. Increasingly, this creates breeding grounds for mosquitoes, house flies and other disease carrying rodents such as mice and rats. This again calls for shifting the goal post in malaria control programmes to sanitation management so that they complement one another with bed nets programmes.
In conclusion, there is a vital link between climate change and malaria. We need to plan for a changing future as temperatures rise and rainfall patterns shift. This way we can create a development solution that both controls malaria and at the same time helps tackle the environmental challenges as well.