Approximately 300km east of Freetown lies the village of Sahn. Like most villages in Sierra Leone it has no running water or electricity. Many people living  here survive through subsistence farming, (rice and cassava) and for the lucky, repatriated money sent from relatives working in larger towns or cities.

Malaria is prevalent, particularly now during the rainy season, but for most people paying $5 for a mosquito net (much more if they wish to buy one for every sleeping space in their house) is simply too costly. Millions of people in Africa die from malaria every year. Bed-nets are the most cost-effective means of preventing the disease.

Now however the people of Sahn (and many others living in the Malen chiefdom) are able to sleep under an insecticide treated bed-net funded by those who’ve kindly donated money here.

Before showing some pictures of the distribution I should explain a little about how I became involved in it.

For a number of months I’ve been liasing with Rob Mather, founder  of the Against Malaria Foundation, to arrange helping with a distribution of bednets funded by people who’ve sponsored the Big Africa Cycle. If I could get to southern Sierra Leone by mid-July a distribution of nets would be taking place. The original plan was to cycle there, but time was too short.

The NGO (Global Minimum) organising and funding the distribution have previously used the Against Malaria Foundation to purchase nets from in the past. They required 10,000 nets to ensure that everyone living in the Sahn Malen chiefdom could benefit from sleeping under a bednet. Why this particular chiefdom? The Sierra Leoneon founder of Global Minimum knows the area well and how much of a problem malaria is. I subsequently agreed with Rob Mather to allow 2000 of the nets funded by people sponsoring the Big Africa Cycle to be ringed for this distribution.

Over the space of a week in more than a dozen villages I’d like to think I helped open and hand-out something like 2000  nets. It was a rewarding and insightful experience, and I hope that by sharing it here in pictures it will encourage more people to donate money to fund bednets for the next distribution I become involved in. Please do share any questions or comments.

Poda Poda loaded with nets

Bales of bednets were loaded into a mini-bus at the start of each day and driven, along with the team of distributors, to one of the villages within the chiefdom.

Briefing
Before visiting each house within the village, people would gather together to be instructed on how to use and maintain their bednets.

David Sengeh: Founder of Global Minimum

David Sengeh, the founder of Global Minimum conducts a survey to question each household and determine how many bednets to distribute.

Questionaire

People were asked a number of questions before being given bednets and each house was checked to see how many sleeping spaces were present. Bags were opened and kept so that bednets could be both hung up to air out and not later repackaged and sold.

The Global Minimum team

The team involved in the distribution were both local residents and students from the cities of Bo and Freetown.

Roof-top rider

I chose to sit on the roof of the mini-bus as we drove between villages. Fortunately most of the distribution was done without it raining.

Village children

The population of villages in Sierra Leone is dominated by children. Reducing the size of families amongst rural communities is no easy task and it is not uncommon to find more than 20 people living within several rooms of a compound.

Sick child with mother

Many children sleep on the floor in villages because there is no bed-space. It is children under 5 that are most at risk from malaria. Educating parents about the importance of their young ones sleeping under a bed-net was necessary during the distribution.

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Girls as young as 12 often become mothers in the village, and by the age of 16 most girls will have given birth. It is during pregnancy that they are most at risk of malaria.

Lunchtime

Rice is the staple food in Sierra Leone, often served with a cassava sauce and occasionally  fish or bony lumps of chicken. It’s not as bad as it looks and communual eating is common in the villages, usually using one’s right hand rather than a spoon. Oh how I miss a nice juicy steak and English mustard!

Happy child

Once the insecticide-treated nets were given to families they were hung up so as to allow them to ventilate. What matters is whether the nets are used in the long-term. Global minimum will return to the villages in the the next few months to conduct spot checks.