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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 April, 2005, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Malaria wedding net dress decline
By Abraham Odeke
BBC Focus On Africa magazine

Wedding dress made from netting
The netting is made up into wedding dresses by tailors
A campaign in Uganda to stop prospective brides using malaria nets as wedding dresses appears to be having an effect.

The cheap bed nets are treated with insecticide and intended to prevent mosquito bites, but clergymen and health officials have in recent years campaigned vigorously against the practice.

Now traders are seeing a sharp decline in the number of orders placed.

"This year I have received only one order for a mosquito net bridal gown," Dickson Ambasada Mangeni, a tailor from Roundabout village in Uganda's north-eastern Tororo district, told BBC World Service's Focus On Africa magazine.

"In the past my machine was one of the busiest. I used to get more than 30 orders."

Subsidised nets

Poor women from the villages in the district used to often go to mass weddings organised for them by Muslim and Christian leaders in nets - subsidised by the local health department - turned into gowns because they could not afford proper ones.

A malaria-free future begins with a malaria-free pregnancy
Poster at Tororo hospital
"When I got married we pulled down our bed net and gave it to the village tailor," recalled 55-year-old Atyanga Kolofrida.

"He made the gown in a few minutes. The tailor charged only 10,000 Ugandan shillings (US$5).

"We did this because we could not afford to sell our only cow to get the money to hire a gown from Tororo town."

But addressing his congregation at the St Jude's Catholic Church, Father Thomas Outa says: "It's useless to come here to tie the knot and to die minutes later in your home because of malaria."

Uganda's health ministry says malaria is the largest single cause of ill health.

It is highly endemic in 90% of the country - so a child can expect to suffer six bouts of malaria a year.

Tororo's main 200-bed hospital is unable to cope with the steady flow of malaria patients requiring admissions.

The hospital's medical superintendent, Dr John Obonyo, says on average the hospital receives 100 malaria patients a day - the majority of them babies with severe complications, requiring blood transfusions.

In the country as a whole, the health ministry estimates 100,000 under-fives die of malaria each year.

'Malaria-free future'

Uganda, often held up as the model of success for its campaign against HIV/Aids, is part of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) initiative that aims to halve malaria mortality in Africa by 2010.

There does seem to be the political will to reach the target, not least because of the effect malaria has on the economy.

Yoweri Museveni
President Museveni is at the forefront of Uganda's anti-Aids campaign
The government says it accounts for 50% of absenteeism in some areas.

It also increases poverty. Poor families spend a quarter of their annual income on malaria treatments for under-fives alone.

President Yoweri Museveni is spearheading the battle, urging mothers at public rallies to seek immediate medical treatment for their children when they fall ill.

Until a few years ago, villagers believed their babies were killed by angry ancestral spirits when they were, in fact, dying of malaria.

But public education is changing attitudes.

"A malaria-free future begins with a malaria-free pregnancy," read posters at Tororo hospital and all village health centres.

"Every fever including that sharp backache and headache on you should be reported to the doctor immediately.

"The mother and her baby must always sleep under the mosquito net."

But they forget to warn against turning nets into wedding dresses.

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