Nothing But Nets began our journey to Rwanda learning more about this breathtakingly beautiful little country—nicknamed “The Land of 1,000 Hills”—and the people who call it home. Our hosts with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) greeted us and our partners with WWE and offered an overview of the country’s painful past.
Rwanda, a hilly, densely populated place suffered unimaginable horror during the 1994 genocide. Ethnic fighting claimed the lives of nearly 1 million people and displaced another 2 million. Our delegation had the opportunity to visit the infamous Hôtel des Mille Collines, where 1,268 people took refuge during those dark days of bloodshed, which inspired the film Hotel Rwanda.
In the nearly two decades since, Rwanda has recovered in many ways from this violent chapter. The nation’s healthcare system is one of the most sophisticated in the region. Legions of nurses and community health workers provide aid, health insurance is widespread, most children attend school, and the government provides critical preventative health tools such as bed nets.
As a result, the malaria news is good: malaria rates are dropping among young children and pregnant women across Rwanda. Health officials say the disease was the leading killer of children just a few years ago. Since 2000, malaria cases have dropped by 75 percent, in large part thanks to the distribution of bed nets, rapid diagnostic tests, and prompt treatment. The government is working toward zero malaria deaths by 2017.
Now, violence is forcing families from Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to the safety of Rwandan refugee camps to the east. 65,000 refugees have fled to Rwanda, the vast majority women and children from DRC. This is Rwanda’s rainy season, creating the perfect conditions for the mosquitoes that carry malaria to multiply. Rwanda has made great strides battling the disease among its people. But with more refugees arriving every day, the malaria problem is always expanding, said Neimah Warsame, UNHCR Representative for Rwanda. Just 60 percent of refugees in Rwanda sleep beneath insecticide-treated bed nets. And many refugees living in the Rwandan mountains have no natural immunity, local officials said.
That’s why Nothing But Nets has traveled here, to help provide much-needed life-saving mosquito nets to families—along with precious peace of mind. As Warsame with UNHCR said, mosquitoes might be small, but they create seriously big challenges.