Part 2: On the Road to help end Malaria

By Jenny Andrews, Executive Director, Malaria Partners International 

I don’t like whiskey. It might have something to do with an unfortunate experience in my younger years, but whatever the reason, I just don’t like the stuff. If you are like me, you are wondering why is MPI’s executive director is sharing her dislike of whiskey in a newsletter focused on malaria elimination? Well, let me tell you why. Late last year, my Rotary club held a Christmas party at Copperworks Distillery in Seattle. We tasted four craft cocktails made with different kinds of whiskey, each of which was beautifully presented. The distillers shared, with an obvious love for their work, how each variety was made. We learned about the huge copper still they imported at great expense from Scotland, the grains used in making whiskey and why selecting the right cask for aging is so important. By learning about what goes on behind the scenes, and taking time to try new things, I gained a greater appreciation for whiskey.

I had a similar learning experience on my recent trip to Zambia. Last month, a group of us spent nine incredibly busy days learning in great detail what goes on behind the scenes, at every level, to train, equip, and deploy Community Health Workers (CHWs) who bring community-based healthcare to rural villages in Zambia.

Day one began early with a meeting with the Program Management Committee responsible for planning and implementing the significant work involved in organizing the training and equipping of CHWs. From there we moved on to many more meetings, including one with the leadership team of our implementation partner, World Vision Zambia. That evening, we were honored to have dinner with key Rotary leaders including Rotary International Director-elect Patrick Chisanga. The next day, we were again off bright and early for a full day of meetings with leaders of the National Malaria Elimination Council, the President’s Malaria Initiative, our wonderful PATH colleagues, and End Malaria Council Executive Director, Dr. Elizabeth Chizema.

Day three again dawned early for meetings with the leadership of The Global Fund and the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health, Professor Lackson Kasonka, which unfortunately never came to pass due to his unexpected meetings with the Prime Minister. That afternoon, we traveled three rugged hours on rutted roads for an incredible meeting with the Chief of the Chamuka tribe. Chief Chamuka is the seventh generation in his family to hold the title of Chief and he is a truly amazing man who is determined to eliminate malaria, end child marriage, and ensure inheritance rights to widowed women in his realm. It was truly an honor to spend time with him!

Having visited with high-level national and tribal leaders, on day four, we turned our attention to meetings with Provincial, District and Health Facility leaders in the areas where the work is occurring. We traveled to the Chalata Health Facility where we met with Neighborhood Health Committee (NHC) members as well as Community Health Workers, and later that afternoon, we visited the training site in Kapiri Mposhi where we were able to hear from members of the NHCs as well as the CHWs.

Day five was, hands down, the most memorable day of the trip for me. We walked alongside newly minted CHWs for their first day of testing, diagnosing, and treating malaria in the field. You have to be there to truly understand that these volunteers walk miles, in all kinds of weather, carrying heavy backpacks filled with test kits, medication, and supplies to huts where a person has been reported as having malaria. They test and treat the patient as well as everyone within a 140-meter radius of the home in case they are hosts to the malaria parasite. In our group, 50% of the people tested were positive for malaria meaning that CHWs had to educate mamas with limited literacy on how to administer medication to several of their children and themselves, each of whom requires a different dose depending on the age and size of the person.

Despite working in malaria elimination for several years, I quickly learned that the work of a CHW is significantly more complicated and sensitive than I thought. The CHWs are not only health practitioners but also educators, negotiators, arbitrators and trusted leaders in their communities. They are mathematicians, comforters, friends and counselors. They are mothers and fathers who love not only their own children but all the children in their communities. Most are not Rotarians, but they live by Rotary’s motto of Service Above Self.

I’ve now been privileged to see what happens behind the scenes and, more than ever, I believe in, and appreciate the work done by these selfless volunteers. If you are interested in traveling with us to see this work firsthand, please reach out to me for more information. And, in case you are interested, I still don’t like whiskey but, like my visit with the CHWs, now that I’ve seen the production process and met the distillers, I have a much greater appreciation for the passion and effort that goes into producing it.

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