Since starting the Peace Corps, I have become exposed to many holidays that I never would have recognized before. To begin with, there are the Tanzanian holidays, e.g.: Julius Nyerere Day (TZ’s first president), Nane Nane (Farmers), May Day (Workers), Unification Day (Tanganyika+Zanzibar=Tanzania). Then there is the constellation of “World ____ Day”s , which are almost exclusively recognized by Peace Corps communities, e.g.: World AIDS Day, World Women’s Day, World Tree Day, World Malaria Day. In America, we make up holidays to sell more greeting cards; in the Peace Corps world, we make up holidays to write more grants and have events.
April 25th is World Malaria Day, and in recognition of this we hosted a 3-day malaria training in my village this past week. Actually, I’m proud to say that this event was completed without a grant (you don’t need money to do work!), although it couldn’t have been done without the help and expertise of my fellow volunteer, Steph. Malaria trainings are Steph’s bread and butter and I was grateful to take advantage of her expertise.
On the first day we taught 55 sixth graders some basic facts of malaria while dispelling some myths. Some of these facts were new to me when I came to Tanzania and might be new to some of you in non-malaria endemic areas:
-Malaria is spread by only a specific type of mosquito: the female anopheles mosquito.
-Female mosquitoes bite humans in order to develop their eggs, but rely on sources of sugar for energy. That means that the only mosquitoes that are biting you are females, the males are off finding food from fruit.
-The anopheles mosquito is active only at night.
We were very happy with the pre vs. post-test results that showed our students learned a lot, despite the flippant attitude among many Tanzanians that malaria education here has reached saturation. The most important thing that they learned was that mosquitoes get infected with malaria after biting a person with malaria—not all anopheles mosquitoes have malaria—and that there are points in every stage of the transmission cycle where spread can be prevented. The students who performed the best on the test and in class were invited to teach the 7th and 5th graders the next day and I was so proud of them and their leadership skills!
The next day was also a success teaching about pre-natal prophylaxis for the mamas at the health center. As is typical with teaching at the health center, there were just a few engaged mamas who asked great questions. (Q: Is there malaria in America? A: Yes, there is, actually*). As an unfortunate coda to the event, a woman having a miscarriage was brought in to the health center who had been hiding and denying her pregnancy for at least seven months. The child is alive although very premature and drinking breastmilk drawn from the mother. I couldn’t help but think that her unfortunate situation really underscored how crucial it is for pregnant women to get pre-natal check-ups and prophylaxis.
Altogether, our 3-day event was a huge success and completely exhausting. Thank you so much to Steph and to everyone in Itiso who helped make it happen!
There is currently an initiative across Africa to interrupt malaria transmission in Africa through vector control and education. Stomping Out Malaria in Africa stompoutmalaria.org/
* Although 90% of the 1 million malaria deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa, malaria can be wherever anopheles is. Although malaria transmission in America was stopped in the 1950s, there are still a few reported cases of malaria usually acquired from travelling. http://www.cdc.gov/features/dsmalariasurveillance/