What are the most deadly creatures in Africa? Nope, not lions, poisonous snakes, or crocodiles. Try Mosquitoes! That’s right, those little insects wreak havoc on people’s lives around the world and create a major global health threat. At home we’re probably used to hearing about mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus for example, but they carry another deadly disease, malaria. April 25th was World Malaria Day, and I want to share some information about this disease and Peace Corps’s initiatives to end malaria across Africa.
Malaria is caused by aparasite that circulates in the blood stream. When an infected person is bitten by a mosquito, the parasite can then be spread to other healthy people. There are three types of malaria: uncomplicated malaria, which is characterized by high fever, body aches, headache, and vomiting; severe malaria, which can cause anemia, seizures, coma, and kidney failure; and recurring malaria, which will cause patients to relapse for months or years after infection.
Therefore, malaria has grave affects on the lives of countless people around the world. Half the world’s population, or 3.3 billon people, in a total of 104 countries are at risk of catching malaria. 219 million cases of the disease are reported globally each year and 660,000 people die from the disease. It is estimated that 91% of these deaths occur in Africa. Young children are at the greatest risk for becoming ill because their bodies have not built up immunity, meaning that 86% of all malaria deaths occur in children under 5 years old. Other high risk groups include pregnant mothers and people suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Like most African countries, Rwanda still grapples with this potentially deadly disease. Cases of malaria are reported in every single district in the country, and in 2011 there were 208,858 confirmed cases of malaria, of which 380 resulted in death.
Even though malaria is a grim reality for half of all people in the world, there is good news! With hard work, it is completely possible that malaria can be eradicated in our lifetimes! We’ve seen how the Carter Foundation has successfully fought against Guinea worm in Africa, and the same can be done for malaria if everyone buckles down and makes some serious changes!
As recently as World War II, malaria existed in every country worldwide, but it has been eradicated in many countries and numerous others have made significant progress in ending the disease. By increasing knowledge, distributing countless mosquito nets, and improving access to testing and treatment, malaria can be wiped out globally. Since 2000 alone, mortality rates have decreased by 25% globally and 33% in Africa! That’s a big step in the right direction!
Peace Corps Volunteers have joined ranks of people combating this terrible disease. PCVs in Senegal started the Stomping Out Malaria in Africa campaign in 2011, which has since expanded to over 20 countries across Africa. This initiative works on many levels to fight the problem from the ground up, using a variety of different activities to make the great impact possible.
For example, education volunteers might incorporate articles or discussions about malaria into their normal lessons. GLOW and BE clubs do a variety of activities to teach children about the disease. Health volunteers work closely with their local health centers to lead village seminars about treatment and prevention. Other volunteers organize bike tours, in which they pedal village to village and teach lessons at rural community gatherings. Mosquito net distribution campaigns seek to get nets into people’s homes and to teach people how to use and maintain them properly.
From what I’ve seen on the ground here, there is a great need for more training about malaria here in Rwanda. Local health centers are supposed to distribute nets free of charge, but some households still fall through the cracks. Even if people do have nets, they are often not used correctly. For example, when I was living with my host family during training, I saw that my host family had mosquito nets but, like many other people, the nets were full of holes, rendering them useless. Many people do not know how to wash their mosquito nets or realize that they need to be replaced every few years.
Here at my boarding school, I see that some students do not have nets over their beds, and sometimes the girls on the top bunk do not have their nets hung from the ceiling. Instead they just drape the net over the bed, which obviously is not going to actually stop a mosquito from biting them. The umukozi Emmanuel, who cooks all the meals for us teachers, got really sick last week. After a day or two of not being at work, I passed him in the village as he trudged slowly up the road to the health center, covered in sweat and looking extremely week. He explained to me he had been diagnosed with malaria and was going to the hospital to pick up his medicine. Luckily he has since made a full recovery!
And don’t worry- I always sleep under a mosquito net and take a weekly malaria prophylaxis!
I know this has been a long and dense post, but I think it’s really important that we PCVs share this information with people back home, so thanks for bearing with me! If you want to learn more about this disease or what is being done to eradicate it, check out these resources! You can check out the Stomping Out Malaria in Africa website for information about Peace Corps’s efforts and you can read blogs posts from volunteers across the continent sharing their project ideas and stories. You can check out the Stomping Out Malaria in Africa Facebook page. If Twitter is more your thing, you can follow @StompOutMalaria for updates and pictures. For teachers, I also have some lesson plans and activities that can be done with your students in America to teach them about this issue.
Again, thanks for taking the time to read this and supporting this important cause. I can’t wait to see all the things that PCVs continue to do to fight malaria in their communities. And hopefully by World Malaria Day 2014, we’ll see even better statistics as the fight continues!
*I pulled the facts and figures from various Peace Corps materials and also from the CDC if you want to check my sources!*