Eliminate Malaria? Are You Kidding?
By Eric Liswaniso, Program Manager, Malaria Partners Zambia
Member of Rotary Club of Ndola and Rotaract Club of Lusaka
“Hi, sorry to interrupt. I know you must be busy, but I saw the tag on your door and I was wondering if you give out mosquito nets…”
From time to time, I get that knock on my door and it usually culminates into a long chat about malaria. Talking to different people, young and old, educated and uneducated, family and friends; I have come to find that so many people, do not fully understand malaria. Despite our familiarity with it, most of us still don’t know how its spread except for the fact that a mosquito bite is responsible for it. Most people know that a mosquito net and indoor spraying take care of the mosquito problem but do not have a thorough grasp of the full range of interventions that can control or stop malaria.
See, in these parts, most of us have grown up with malaria all around us that it is almost considered normal when one has it. Yet so many people die from it every year. When I tell people about our malaria elimination efforts as the Rotary-led Partners for a Malaria-Free Zambia project, I am usually met with disbelief, doubt, and sometimes utter skepticism. How can you eliminate malaria, they ask. Isn’t disease natural? We then get into a long respectful discussion where I explain the causes of malaria and the range of interventions that have been proven to work in different parts of the world. I also highlight the low disease burden in some parts of our own country where the incidence rate is very low, carefully explaining that this is not due to happenstance but is a consequence of effective malaria elimination interventions, including the integrated community case management program we are supporting. So far, I have a 100% success rate getting people to that “aha” moment when they then ask how they can get involved.
Now, I can only reach so many people. My influence is limited to those I can physically interact with as they stumble into my office or meet me on the streets with my “malaria ends with me” T-shirt. That is why Malaria Partners Zambia is supporting community sensitization efforts in the areas where we are working. We are using every possible platform to get the word out. We are on the radio. We are in the community spreading the message through theatre and music. We are meeting civic, faith, and traditional leaders to sensitize them about malaria and encourage them to be agents of behavioral change in their catchments.
This is working. People are learning. People are changing, and the incidence rate is slowly beginning to decline.
As we commemorate World Malaria Day, we are aware of the many challenges that lie ahead of us, but we are also cognisant of our own successes in combating malaria and the misinformation around it through our community awareness campaigns. This year, we are supporting the provincial commemorations in Central, Copperbelt, and Muchinga provinces where the celebrations will be held in the most malaria high burden communities of each district. This innovative strategy is aiming to reach the most affected communities with malaria messages.
You can get involved in this effort by sharing our malaria day poster on your social media and using the hashtag #MalariaEndsWithMe. You can also donate towards these efforts through the links provided in this newsletter.
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