Monday, 15 April 2013

Being malaria-free will also benefit the tourism industry

I have really understood the issues related to malaria, says Mr. Thamrin Wata, the Culture and Tourism Officer of South Sulawesi province in Indonesia. “It is very important for my work to know about this disease, because it is crucial for us to protect our tourist destinations from malaria to make them more attractive for travellers. Before I joined this malaria working group, I thought that tourism is only related to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV infections. But now I have realized that malaria plays also a role.

A baby sleeps under a bed net in Selayar district
© UNICEF Indonesia / 2012 / Asri
Mr Thamrin Wata has been working in the Tourism Office of South Sulawesi province since 1990. During all this time, he never received clear information about malaria and so he did not consider malaria a serious disease one needs to be scared of.

In October 2012, Mr. Thamrin Wata attended a workshop about malaria in Makassar sponsored by UNICEF in collaboration with the Provincial Health Office South Sulawesi. In this workshop he learned that malaria is a dangerous disease, especially in children and pregnant women, if not correctly managed by health workers. It is also a problem for holiday destinations, because tourists, especially foreigners, are scared of malaria infections and prefer to travel to areas that are free from malaria. As this directly relates to his work for the Tourism Office of South Sulawesi, Mr. Thamrin Wata decided to become a member of the malaria working group.

I will convey this message to all people who live in tourist destination areas in South Sulawesi, because they have to know how to protect themselves from malaria, for example by sleeping under bed nets,” Mr. Thamrin Wata promises.

Traditional ships like this one are made in Bulukumba
© UNICEF Indonesia / 2012 / Laihad
South Sulawesi has three tourist destination areas all of which have a high risk of malaria: The island of Selayar with its beautiful waters and fish is popular with divers, Tana Toraja has an ancient graveyard system and Bulukumba is famous for its traditional ship makers. Despite all this natural beauty and interesting culture, only about 40,000 international tourists visit the area every year. The local population at risk in these three districts amounts to around 1,066,000 persons, among them approximately 166,000 children under five years and on average about 11,000 pregnant women.

Some swampy areas in South Sulawesi and also in West Sulawesi are unfortunately good breeding sites for malaria mosquitos. Therefore, UNICEF has supported training for health staff in these two provinces to develop a strategic plan to reduce the breeding places and thus the incidence of malaria. In line with this plan, health staff will identify the concerned areas by measuring the size of each breeeding place. Then they will mobilize the community to work together in reducing these risk areas. The community is expected to contribute to these efforts, e.g. through constructing simple drainage, cleaning water pools from vegetation and removing stagnant water.

Swampy area like this forest in Selayar district are ideal
mosquito breeding places
© UNICEF Indonesia / 2012 / Asri
UNICEF has also supported a study visit for the malaria teams from South Sulawesi and from Polman district in West Sulawesi to travel to Sabang in Aceh province for a study visit. The participants learned about the malaria eradication experience in Sabang, the high quality integrated malaria, maternal and child health, and immunization program, environment management and malaria surveillance of this district. Mr. Saman Lilo, a community leader and retired school headmaster from Polman district, was part of the team. “In Sabang I learned that the community has to be involved in malaria control, especially related to environment management”, he recalls. “Culturally, Sabang and Polman are very similar. That’s why I think that in Polman we could replicate the good practices of Sabang, such as teaching children in school about mosquitos and their breeding sites and encouraging the community to keep their homes, gardens and yards clean from stagnant water which would be a potential mosquito breeding area.”

“We hope that with a continuous and coordinated effort by all sectors we can together reduce the number of malaria cases and move forward to malaria pre-elimination efforts. So malaria will not be a threat anymore – neither for our community nor for tourists visiting our beautiful provinces! And if one day our tourist destinations are completely free from malaria, more tourists will be excited to visit South and West Sulawesi which will improve the economic situation and the future of our children!” says Mr. Thamrin Wata.

A beautiful sunset in Selayar district
© UNICEF Indonesia / 2012 / Laihad