Alex – Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday

When I found out I would be serving in a West African country as a health volunteer, the first thing that came to mind in terms of diseases was HIV/AIDS and malnutrition. Turns out, malaria is the number one killer in Africa. This doesn’t mean that HIV/AIDS and malnutrition are not issues here, but I think that many people forget that malaria still exists, and how severe its burden of disease is for people living in this part of the world. So here are a few facts:

Every 10 seconds a child is diagnosed with malaria in Africa.

Pregnant women and children under 5 years of age are at the most risk for contracting malaria. They are also the population that is found outside during the highest malaria transmission hours, specifically 9 pm – 4 am. This is because women and children take this time to cook and clean for their families. Not to mention, this is the population most susceptible to other maladies such as malnutrition (women and children eat last), sexually transmitted diseases (women are more susceptible to STDs anatomically), genital mutilation, etc.

Malaria is preventable and treatable. In theory, any child under the age of 5 or any pregnant women who exhibits any symptoms of malaria (fever, dizziness, etc) should be taken straight to the CSPS by a local health agent. Medication is given, either free of charge or very cheaply after these patients are tested with rapid diagnostic malaria tests, distributed through the ministry of health nationawide. In addition, every woman that shows up to the CSPS for a pre-natal consultation should be given a free mosquito net treated with insecticide. Unfortunately many times this doesn’t happen for a number of different reasons. Women are responsible for most of the work  load around the house, and therefore do not have time to go to the CSPS. Most CSPS’s service a number of satellite villages which are located many kilometers on brousse away, making it difficult for women and children to get to a health clinic. In 2010, Burkina Faso hosted universal mosquito net campaign, which was supposed to provide one mosquito net for every two people, free of charge.  Although these nets were distributed, many people did not use them for sleeping. Once again, the reasoning behind this is varied. Some sold the nets for profit, some used them to go fishing or as tami’s to make zoom koom (a local drink that requires a strainer). Some live in parts of the country (such as the Northern Sahel, where I am located), where it is too hot to sleep indoors under a net, so they sleep outdoors. Lack of trees or hangers to hang the mosquito net on outside prohibits people from using them when they sleep outside. Some people do use the nets, but they are ripped and torn. Some washed the nets weekly, thus eliminating the effect of insecticide.

The effects of malaria on Burkina’s people cannot be under estimated. In many ways, malaria is a disease of poverty, caused by poor hygiene, lack of education, lack of resources. The burden of disease falls most heavily on those who are already more prone to being sick. Malaria is one of the top reasons why children in Burkina do not reach their fifth birthday, do not go to school, do not help with family chores, do not play or just do whatever a child should do.
PC Burkina is part of a larger West African Peace Corps initiative which requires every volunteer, regardless of domain or job description, to work on malaria prevention, treatment,and education activities. Right now I am in Ouahigouya with the nurse/midwife from my village to work on training and education for malaria prevention activities in village. One of the activities we are in the process of doing is door-to-door mosquito net inspection campaigns. My village is organized in round cartiees of 30-40 families each. Together with my community health agents, midwives, and nurses, we will go to each house and inspect mosquito nets to see if they are in good condition and actually used. Those people who show exceptional knowledge about malaria and mosquito net use will serve as community leaders to educate those who do not. Another project currently in the works involves an anonymous survey of mosquito net usage. We will place two boxes at my CSPS, one with a picture of a mosquito net, and one without. People will place stones in either of the two boxes depending on whether or not they slept under a net the night before. I will calculate and graph these monthly campaigns and display them on the CSPS grounds along with the number of malaria cases diagnosed each month. The goal is to get people to see a connection between the use of a mosquito net and the idea that malaria cases can decrease (hopefully) as net use increases. We’ll see if this actually works, but it’s worth a try.To find out more about what PC Burkina and PC Africa are doing to help end malaria, go to http://stompoutmalaria.org/. If you search by country, you can even find a little bit of info about me on there! How will you stomp out malaria in 2012?

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