It’s been a busy first week here in Conakry! I arrived late Sunday night and got to work first thing Monday morning, starting with introductions. Country Director Julie Burns and PC/Guinea Staff extended me a warm welcome. There is a lot of excitement in the office about the Stomping Out Malaria in Africa initiative since the Guinean staff understands how important an issue malaria is in their country.
Madiou Diallo, Public Health Technical Trainer, introduced me to to the ins and outs of the Guinean health system, the impact of malaria in Guinea, and Peace Corps Guinea’s commitment to reducing malaria prevalence. We also reached out to potential partner organizations. In our first week, we contacted almost all the organizations we had hoped to, resulting in productive meetings with Helen Keller International, the National Malaria Control Program, the Central Pharmacy of Guinea, Faisons Ensemble/USAID, Population Services International and Catholic Relief Services, among others. Our goal is to find out how these key actors are fighting malaria in Guinea and discover the best possible interventions for Peace Corps Volunteers to contribute to the collaborative effort. We already identified a number of projects that volunteers may be in a unique position to contribute to given their cross-cultural training, language skills, local integration, technical knowledge, and other capabilities.
I also met about a dozen volunteers who were passing through Conakry, and I’m pleased to say that they are enthusiastic about malaria prevention! In discussing with PCVs, I realized that there are a lot of similarities between attitudes about malaria here and attitudes in other countries.
One of the first things most Peace Corps Guinea Volunteers mention about the disease is that Guineans often misdiagnose illnesses as malaria due to a lack of understanding of the disease and how to get properly tested. This is a serious issue across Africa. One consequence of misdiagnosis is needless spending on ineffective or harmful medications. In addition to hurting (or at least not helping) the sick individual, these habits of self-diagnosis and self-medication increase the risk that the parasite will develop a resistance to the drug, meaning that the few medications we currently have for treating malaria become less and less effective. For this reason, it is now an official policy in Guinea that most adults should not undergo treatments which contain sulfadoxine-pyrethamine (SP), a combination antimalarial which is especially effective at preventing cases of malaria in pregnant women.
The fear is that as SP is used by an ever-greater segment of the population (and often incorrectly due to self-medication), resistance to the combination may develop, leaving pregnant women without a key defense against malaria. Peace Corps Volunteers are in an excellent position in their communities to help with this issue, educating people on the importance of receiving an accurate diagnosis and taking the full course of whatever treatment is prescribed.
It’s great that volunteers are already showing interest in preventing malaria in their communities, since the heavy rains that started this week signal the beginning of the high transmission season here in Guinea, which generally runs from July-October. Looking forward: we are gearing up for training for the newest group of volunteers. Stay tuned for more news about our malaria prevention activities in Guinea!