Friday, April 15, 2016

From Rip to Repair: Closing the Gap on Malaria

Since coming to Benin, I've learned that you don't have to be in the health field to fight malaria. In honor of World Malaria Month, I will be posting about some of my experiences with malaria in Benin and my efforts to combat this illness.

As Peace Corps Volunteers, living and working among at-risk populations, we are in a unique position to stop malaria in our communities. Statistically, malaria is responsible for over 350,000 deaths annually in Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 50% of school absenteeism and costs upwards of 40% of public health spending in endemic countries. How is such a preventable illness capable of trapping people in a cycle of sickness, poverty and suffering? We may not have the answers, but we can help.

Unlike other health problems, anyone can fall victim to malaria. Whether you work with a women's group, English club, farmer's organization or spend afternoons playing with local children, you can implement malaria education into your daily life. One of my favorite projects so far was an impromptu net repair day in village:

It was a quiet Saturday. Due to the heavy rains overnight, most people were working their fields; elder women and children were left at home to prepare meals and complete housework. Instead of making my rounds to saluer the villagers, I set out with a needle, thread and some spare mosquito netting, all the necessities for net repair.

I walked through the village, knocking on doors, greeting my neighbors and inspecting bed nets. For anyone who has ever conducted a bed net gap identification, you know that most women complain that their nets are gate or dechiree. At each home, I asked to examine the nets, and together, we searched for holes and repaired them. The children raced each other to find any rips in the netting and delighted in their ability to sew them up. Mothers were ecstatic to learn that simple household objects could be used to fix their nets and prevent malaria in their family.

So proud of our anti-malaria efforts!
This photo was originally posted last month, then reposted by Peace Corps over social media. 

Not everything in Peace Corps should feel like a challenge, and mosquito net repair sessions are easy to implement and even easier to execute! While I'm working to motivate other volunteers to work together in their anti-malarial efforts, I urge them to give nets a new life (and save them from serving as the front line defense against hungry village goats!)

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