By Nelly Muluka, IFRC

Meri Line Sounget, of the Central African Red Cross Society, is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) focal person for the HIV and tuberculosis programmes in the country, financed by the Global Fund.

However, this mother of three also doubles up as the person who oversees the mass distribution of long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets by Red Cross volunteers, in collaboration with the IFRC.

“I was very excited when I was first told that I would be leading Red Cross volunteers in the mass distribution of nets in the hard to reach areas of the country,” said Meri Line. “I had heard of the suffering of many families in overcrowded camps, those living in the open air and in bushes, so this was going to be an opportunity to be of service to them.

“I knew it was not going to be smooth sailing because of the condition of roads and the insecurity, but I was not prepared for what would follow. During our first mission, just after driving out of the capital, we were carjacked and held hostages for over five hours. We lost everything and walked in darkness for ten kilometres before getting help.”

This experience did not discourage the determined team. Three days later, they hit the road once more, aiming to reach more vulnerable groups.

“Being the height of the crisis in our country, I thought about women and children in the camps and bushes, and their exposure to malaria. I refused to recall my shocking experience of three days back and decided to remain focused on the joy of contributing towards the reduction of human suffering that was ahead,” adds Meri Line.

The team arrived safely at their destination and has since made many more similar trips, but it has not been easy.

“With the help of the Red Cross volunteers, we have managed to distribute mosquito nets in all of the health regions number one, two and three. In the process, we have faced myriad challenges including threats, walking in the hot sun for long distances, going without food, sleeping in classrooms, using motorcycles, bicycles and even boats, to the extent of capsizing in a river and losing a volunteer. All that is, however, behind us and what makes us proud is that we have assisted families to protect themselves against the deadly and number one killer disease in our country,” concludes Meri Line.

Malaria has a 58 per cent morbidity rate and a 54 per cent mortality rate in the Central African Republic, affecting children under 5 and expectant mothers the most. The Red Cross, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other partners, has distributed more than 2.2 million long lasting insecticide treated mosquito nets across the country.