The past tend days here at Malaria Boot Camp in Thiès, Senegal, have been very exciting. The newest members of the Stomping Out Malaria in Africa initiative have been completely immersed in learning about malaria eradication efforts across the continent. Even with our small budget we have assembled 20 volunteers and three staff from ten countries to attend this unique training! Together with other volunteers who have been trained in previous boot camps we are the Malaria Team, the core of Peace Corps’ malaria reduction efforts. When the last session of boot camp ends this afternoon we will all head back to our host countries to utilize our new knowledge and skills.
Boot Camp is an invaluable training for members of the Malaria Team. The term “boot camp” isn’t at all an exaggeration, since we participants have been following a rigorous schedule of presentations, tutorials, visits to local health facilities, conference calls and consultations with top malaria professionals and medical experts. To this end we have been introduced to the amazing work done by Stomp’s key partners, the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and Malaria No More, as well as many other organizations which are having an important impact in the fight to eradicate malaria, such as Against Malaria. We have also focused on the role of other major coordinating organizations such as Roll Back Malaria and the World Health Organization (WHO), which help bridge the divide between local and international malaria reduction efforts especially in the areas of global research and statistics. Other training sessions over the past week focused on organizations like the Global Fund, whose huge monetary contributions have changed the game of malaria reduction by making possible the widespread purchasing of bed nets and antimalarial drugs.
In addition to focusing on the global scale, we have dedicated a lot of time to learning about how to combat the disease on the local level. We now know the finer details of malaria transmission and what the parasite does to the human body. Technical terms like oocyst, parasitemia, gametocites and Plasmodium falciparum are part of our normal vocabulary. The threat of widespread insecticide resistance is a frequent conversation topic at the dinner table. We have been studying ways that volunteers and community health workers can fight malaria in their communities, from making neem cream (a natural mosquito repellent) to distributing mosquito nets. By sharing information about the many projects done by the full community of over 3000 Peace Corps volunteers in 20 countries, we can deepen and multiply our impact.
Others boot camp sessions have focused on the electronic tools that Stomp uses, such as Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and even the website you are reading right now! These tools allow Malaria Team members to support each other as well as their fellow volunteers. Earlier this week we also spoke with officials from the PMI and CDC in person and over Skype, which is an essential tool for us given the geographical breadth of our efforts.
One of the most inspiring aspects of this training has been the motivation of the members of the Malaria Team. Although we all came to boot camp with different experiences in our respective countries, we are united in our strong commitment to reduce malaria everywhere. What is the source of this motivation? We care deeply about our host communities and countries. We have all seen different variations of the effect malaria has on our communities, from the death of children in our host families to reduced productivity in the fields to huge financial costs for those who have the least money to pay for antimalarial drugs to treat themselves.
Looking forward, there is a lot of work to be done in Guinea, but many reasons to be optimistic too. Later today we will all be presenting our action plans for the next few months which lays out and prioritizes the work we will accomplish over the next few months. I’m excited to share my ideas for Guinea and also to see what my fellow team members will be bring to their countries and communities from our training here. Thanks to Boot Camp, we are ready to bring all these resources to our volunteers, staff and host countries so that we can accelerate our pace toward malaria eradication!