Malaria portrait from Sierra Leone

Salaymatu Kargbo was one of the first people we met in Yamandu. A baby girl, just 17 months old, with tiny braids in her hair and sleepiness in her eyes. Her mother carefully approached our car, as soon as it stopped outside the colourful clinic.

The child's face told of fever and exhaustion.

The mother's simply looked scared.

A malaria test was one of the first things carried out by the nurses. Here in Yamandu's health clinic, as well as in many others in this region, testing and treatment for malaria is provided by MSF.

The tests and the medicines are given free of charge. Salaymatu's mother said she did not know this. She had expected the nurses to ask for money. And that was the reason why she had waited four days to come, while seeing her baby's fever rise for every day gone by.

Now she had chosen to come down to the clinic anyway, even though she had no money to pay for anything. One of the reasons, she explained, was that one of her other children had died less than a year ago.

That child had showed the same symptoms as Salaymatu now did. A fever that would not go away and a total lack of appetite. Her biggest fear, said the mother, was to loose Salaymatu in the same way as she had lost her other child.

It took 15 minutes to prove that Salaymatu had malaria parasites in her blood. During those minutes of waiting, the nurses concluded that the girl probably also suffered from some sort of respiratory infection. The first dose of malaria treatment was given less than ten minutes later.

Because of the pneumonia and Salaymatu's unstable condition, she and her mother were offered to come to the MSF referral centre in Gondama. The treatment and the stay would be free of charge.

Salaymatu's story is not very extraordinary. Every day in Sierra Leone, children like her become infected with malaria. A lot them die from it. In fact, malaria remains the biggest threat to the lives of children under five in Sierra Leone. And in many cases, it becomes fatal because the caretakers do not have money to pay for transport to health clinics and medicines.

This is one of the reasons why MSF has established an outreach programme for malaria prevention and treatment. A programme that makes it possible for MSF to reach people who cannot reach MSF. Like Salaymatu Kargbo.