The Pivotal Role of Data in Community Malaria Work
By Wongani Zulu, Malaria Surveillance Specialist, Partners For A Malaria-Free Zambia
On Friday 1st October 2021, a cohort of 30 community health workers (CHWs) from Mpika district in Muchinga Province took up arms against Plasmodium falciparum, the deadly parasite notorious for causing 98% of the malaria cases in Zambia. Armed with rapid diagnostic test (RDT) cassettes, packs of malaria medicines, and unfettered eagerness to clear the malaria parasite, these CHWs set out into the community to get a practical feel of testing for, diagnosing and treating malaria, as is the tradition on the fifth day of training in Integrated Community Case Management (iCCM+) or simply community malaria surveillance.
Why is the date important to me? Because after having worked for the National Malaria Elimination Centre from 2017 to 2020, and then taking a different opportunity outside the malaria world, I returned to the malaria fight, and this day reminded me why I enjoy malaria work so much. I joined the Programs of Scale Partners for a Malaria-Free Zambia (PoS PMFZ) Project as surveillance specialist in September 2021, when training of CHWs was already in top gear, and as of yearend, 1,308 CHWs had been trained.
In the past 12 months, 194,896 malaria cases have been detected and reported in the Malaria Rapid Reporting System in seven of the districts that the PMFZ Project has trained CHWs in. It is pleasing to know that of these cases, 97,491 (a little over half) were detected by CHWs. Our good CHWs also treated 95,553 cases and referred the rest to health facilities. Studies inform us that many factors affect malaria incidence rates, but we are confident that the trained CHWs have contributed to reducing the malaria incidence from 473 cases per 1,000 population in March 2021 to 323 cases per 1,000 population 12 months later.
During a data quality audit the Project conducted just about a month ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that in a single month, a certain CHW had visited 42 houses, actively following up cases in her catchment area. She and others had been consistent ever since their deployment, three months prior. How can that not impress you? While various challenges hampering community work may exist from time to time, there is no denying that the CHWs are eager to play their extremely critical role in eliminating malaria.
Seeing the verve with which CHWs play their part gives me the impetus to play mine. And my piece mostly involves assessing data for its validity and accuracy, raising flags if an outbreak is afoot, and very importantly, ensuring that the CHWs receive their monthly airtime top-ups as a token of appreciation for sending reports on the amazing work they do. So in 2022, I will play my part in strengthening data management processes to ensure that not only are accurate statistics reported, but everybody gets interested in the statistics, so that they may be inspired to play their part too.
I am always happy to present visuals of the good work CHWs are doing, but even happier to know they are working tirelessly to clear malaria parasite infections in their communities. In the malaria fight, we often call the CHWs foot soldiers, and they literally are. They are always ready to put their best foot forward in getting rid of malaria (no pun intended). So it goes without saying that they deserve all the support they can get from all of us. My clarion call would therefore be for a strengthened partnership with the community for a malaria-free Zambia, and the data will show us the results of the partnership.
Wongani Zulu is an ICT and data management professional who works for the PMFZ Project as malaria surveillance specialist and has spent the larger part of 16 years building, enhancing and managing digital tools to make his colleagues’ work easier.
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