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Friday, May 16, 2014

Stomping Out Malaria

Recently all eyes have been on Guinea and neighboring countries in wake of the Ebola outbreak. It’s a country few could’ve placed on the map just a few short months ago and is a place I’m proud to call home. Yet, as somebody who’s lived, worked, cried, loved, and laughed here for the past 18 months, there’s a disease that hits much closer to home.  While people watched aghast as 142 lives were lost to Ebola (an incredible tragedy) news sources remained silent on the largest public health issue and killer in Guinea and much of Sub-Saharan Africa—malaria.

For anyone that might not know or needs a refresher, malaria is a mosquito-born infectious disease caused by parasites known as Plasmodium. It begins with a bite from an infected Anopheles mosquito, which introduces the parasite into the circulatory system via her saliva.  The parasites eventually find their way to the liver where they reproduce. Malaria typically manifests itself as cyclical fevers, headaches, chills, and nausea, but if left untreated can lead to seizures, miscarriage, coma or even death.

Malaria kills one child every 30 seconds in Sub-Saharan Africa and is responsible for 14% of death and 34% of hospitalizations in Guinea.  The entire population lives in high-transmission zones.  Since January 2014, 556 people have been diagnosed with malaria in my community alone. Keep in mind these are only the cases of people who visited the health center for treatment and doesn’t account for the people who relied on traditional home treatment or simply didn’t have access to the health center.

Throughout Guinea, misinformation about malaria abounds. I’ve had many a heated discussion about whether or not you can get malaria from eating green/ too many mangoes (you can’t!!!). Others claim mosquitoes are only a problem in the capital Conakry and malaria doesn’t exist in my community. Regardless of whether or not somebody wants to believe it’s a problem, the numbers speak for themselves.

However, the good news is that malaria is a disease that is easily preventable and treatable.  In 2011 Peace Corps Guinea joined with all other Peace Corps Africa countries to finally eliminate malaria. There are over 3,000 volunteers like me who are striving to bring malaria deaths in our host countries to zero by 2020. It’s a goal that sounds daunting but is possible.

The largest component of this campaign as a volunteer is the dissemination of proper information about disease transmission, treatment availability, and proper use/ maintenance of mosquito nets. For the last month I’ve put many of my other projects on hold to educate my community. Together with other volunteers I completed a bicycle tour to educate five different communities over 3 days. In total we talked with ~600 people of all ages and backgrounds. Last weekend we hosted a net washing training and soccer game with half-time malaria talk in our regional capital. Tomorrow I’m kicking off my educational campaign in my community’s nightclub and at the soccer field. Even if they don’t come to learn about malaria, they surely will to watch me play soccer and dance. Pictures to follow.

I hope you learned a little something about malaria. Please share this with other friends or family members and help spread the word about malaria.