North American entertainers support mosquito net campaign in Uganda

News Stories, 17 March 2009

© UNHCR/V.Akello
Tom Cavanagh meets members of a Somali refugee youth group who encourage their communities to use bed nets.

NAKIVALE, Uganda, March 17 (UNHCR) Popular entertainers Tom Cavanagh and Gavin DeGraw have visited refugee settlements in Uganda to help raise awareness about the deadly danger of malaria and to distribute hundreds of mosquito nets.

Canadian actor Cavanagh and DeGraw, an award-winning American singer and musician, toured Nakivale and Oruchinga with assistance from the UN refugee agency during a five-day visit to Uganda, which wrapped up last Friday. The two settlements are home to some 50,000 refugees, mainly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia and the Sudan.

"It is shocking that malaria still kills so many refugees today," Cavanagh, star of the new television drama "Trust Me," said while touring Nakivale, where he and DeGraw helped hand out 800 long-lasting, insecticide-treated nets to Congolese refugees forced to flee fighting in recent months in their homeland.

Of the millions of people of concern to the UNHCR, two thirds live in malaria endemic areas. UNHCR estimates that about 930,000 refugees are infected with malaria every year in Africa. Children are particularly vulnerable. Last year, Uganda had the highest death rate from malaria among children under five years of age. In Nakivale, more than 4,000 children aged under five are treated for malaria every month.

"We have to continue to raise funding for mosquito nets for all refugees," said DeGraw, referring to the UN Foundation's "Nothing But Nets" campaign, which last year formed a partnership with UNHCR to eliminate malaria deaths in refugee camps.

"Refugees in these camps have survived losing their homes, violence and genocide they should not then die of a mosquito bite," Nothing But Nets Executive Director Elizabeth Gore said in a press statement. "We know Gavin and Tom's supporters will provide funds to provide life-saving bed nets."

The campaign hopes to distribute 257,600 nets for more than half-a-million refugees in Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania. One net, which can protect two people, costs US$10 to purchase, distribute and educate families on its use.

After the distribution, DeGraw gave an impromptu hour-long concert for more than 1,400 children at a school built earlier this year in Nakivale to cater for the influx of Congolese. The kids sang along to his song, "Freedom," reflecting their desire for a peaceful and happy future.

UNHCR cares for some 152,000 refugees in Uganda, including 47,000 in Nakivale and some 2,200 in Oruchinga. Last year, Nothing But Nets gave UNHCR 37,500 mosquito nets for distribution to newly arrived Congolese refugees.

By Vanessa Akello in Nakivale, Uganda