Young warriors no match for insects bearing malaria

The Masai are a match for Africa's greatest predators. Young warriors in tartan-red shawls stand guard over their cattle, spears in hand and eyes scanning the horizon for lion or leopard. By night, their homes – clusters of mud and dung huts – are protected by a ring of thorn and stick.

But the ancient wiles cannot keep out one adversary. As evening falls, mosquitoes fly through the lines of defence and into the dark, smoky huts. As families drift off to sleep, the insects set to work – biting into exposed skin, and killing more people than any wild animal.

Pashaka ole Sisi was slumped across her mother's lap, the five-year-old girl's forehead burning with fever. Her eyes were shut tight to keeping a ringing headache out. Her mother, Mosomba, a woman with a fine-boned face and wearing seven bead necklaces, stroked the girl's head.

The malaria had started three days earlier, she explained. "The first signs were the fever and coughing. I tried to use a sponge to cool her down, but it was no use." Her husband, clad in a red Masai shawl and battered sandals, hovered with a worried look under a nearby acacia tree.

The malaria season has returned with a vengeance here in Entasopia, a Masai town in southern Kenya. Every morning, mothers line up for treatment outside the smart health clinic, opened with help from Amref, one of the three charities that Independent readers are helping in this year's Christmas appeal for Africa.

The scourge of 19th century Victorian explorers remains among the continent's deadliest diseases. There are over 100 million cases a year, causing about half a million deaths, making malaria Africa's second greatest killer after Aids.

Every 40 seconds a child aged under five dies. That's about two since you started reading this story. It is entirely preventable. While HIV/Aids needs complex social and medical intervention, malaria can be fought with a little money and imagination. The simple solutions are the best. The drugs are cheap. And sleeping under a nylon net halves the chances of infection while odds are halved again if the net is treated with insecticide.

But in Masailand simple solutions can be expensive. Pashaka's mother said they had mosquito nets at home, but the insecticide has long run out. The repellent costs 40p per dose.

Training is also important. "We have to train the mothers a lot," said a district nurse, Albert Munyere, himself a Masai. "Before, they would stay home and try traditional cures first, like inducing vomiting or mixing herbs with water. Change is coming, but it is slow."

Until a few years ago, the Masai way of protecting against malaria was to stitch together sugar sacks and hang them around the cow-skin beds. It didn't work. "Those sacks were very hot, and not very comfortable," said Magdalene Toroge. "Many people died".

Then, with help from Amref, a group of mothers took matters into their hands. Amref trainers showed them how to stitch and treat their nets. Since then, the group has made more than 200, for their families and for sale in town. The impact has been dramatic, with local malaria rates plummeting.

The nomadic lifestyle also exposes the Masai to another health risk – the eye infection called trachoma. Amref-trained health workers – mostly volunteer mothers – are leading the fight against the disease. Children and adults needing treatment are given an antibiotic cream or referred to an Amref clinic for an operation.

Is the Masai lifestyle incompatible with the fight against malaria and trachoma? Not so, says Amref's programme manager, Francis Dikir. "You can live normally in a traditional village like anywhere else. The problem is marginalisation – they need basic services like a dispensary and schools. This is just the start of changing all that."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power