It occurs to me that I told everyone in Uganda what I did for World Malaria Month (April), but not everyone at home! So let’s fix that.
In late March I attended a workshop which mainly focused on HIV/AIDS awareness and activities, but also focused a small amount on malaria. We were encouraged to do malaria activities in our schools and communities to raise awareness and educate people on the disease. I, with another staff member at my school, co-planned a week of college activities involving the students and the staff.
On Monday April 21, we had a Health Officer from Yumbe hospital come to do a general talk about malaria. HO’s are like emissaries from the hospital who work with VHTs (village health teams) to educate Ugandans, especially in rural areas, about healthy habits and preventing disease. Save any outside organization loaning management help, VHT’s are comprised of only Ugandan nationals.
Tuesday, the students organized skits around malaria myths and facts. I had wanted them to do it completely on their own, but to make sure they got the correct information I gave some example situations. For example, a man is told by a doctor that he should sleep under a net every night. The man says he is strong, has had malaria before, and is okay, so why should he? The answer we’re looking for at that point is something like, just because you survive malaria doesn’t mean your family will. If a mosquito bites you and you have malaria, then it can be passed to your children, your elderly relatives, or people who are immuno-comprimised like people with HIV or AIDS. Other myths include that sleeping under a net will give you cancer, malaria is spread through saliva, and malaria is spread through sexual contact.
Wednesday, we had a demonstration of how to hang the net on the dorm beds provided here. They also talked about how to hang the nets when you don’t have four poster beds. Many people who live in huts just sleep on mattresses on the ground, and so it’s much easier to hang a net from a single point on the roof. To do this, they gather the top of the net with rope or by placing a bucket lid underneath and hanging it from that. We also talked about repairing nets and washing them. They actually need to be washed about every 4 months to reactivate the insecticides. Only about 13% of Ugandans currently sleep under nets, which is a ridiculously small amount. As a facilitator at one of my workshops said, mosquitoes live less than a month. So basically if the whole country slept under nets for at least a month, malaria would be almost wiped out.
Thursday, we had another skit in the form of a radio show (they unironically love drama and skits and music here, which I love). Some of the students posed as local health authorities, nurses, doctors, district health officers, politicians, etc. Then they called on the audience to have “callers” into the show. Radio has a large presence in Uganda, mostly because it’s an oral culture, and because lots of people don’t read. They especially don’t read their local language. So lots of broadcasts are in multiple languages and they even have BBC World Service at 6pm each night. I still need to get a working radio, because even though most phones come with FM radio transmitters, it’s not powerful enough to pick up the signal for BBC. Sad day.
Friday was the culmination of our activities, when we had a sort of a game show program, which probably would have worked better if the students were split into groups. (There are 450 students at my college, and most of them showed up at the event on Friday.) We also drew names for giving out new mosquito nets to the student body. Unfortunately the grant I received for my activities didn’t cover buying nets for the entire student body, so I bought 35 and said I’d look for funding for the rest. My hope is to by the time I leave, have a storage and checkout system so that all students who come to the college have a net to use while they’re here.
The entire week was exhausting, but the results were good. I got good feedback from my students and staff. Peace Corps Africa had a competition in April among the countries to do lots of malaria activities (each activity had a point value). Uganda ended up winning! Makes me proud to be in Peace Corps. For a while I thought competition was silly as a motivator, but knowing that we were competing against all the other countries made me want to do more and more.
Malaria isn’t just an April problem, but an always problem. So while I’m thrilled with all the things I did, I look forward to doing more, multiple times a year. I urge you to donate to organizations which provide nets, malaria education, or anyone who is researching a vaccine (which would be awesome!). And thanks for reading.