Diocese of Central Tanganyika
DCT-Nets for Life puts focus on World Malaria Day
By Magi Griffin
Twenty girls danced forward to the rhythmic beat of drums punctuated by shuffling feet and clapping hands. Children, teachers and village leaders joined in the Nghulugano Primary School Choir singing: Gonjwa hili malaria, balaa la kitaifa. The festivities had begun!
The Diocese of Central Tanganyika-Nets for Life Leadership Team drew attention to World Malaria Day (observed April 25), by holding a special Malaria Prevention Educational Event for Nghulugano village's 670-plus school children.
The gathering was conducted at the bush village school in cooperation with government and school officials in the Bahi District of central Tanzania Dodoma Region, an impoverished swamp area with extremely high-incidence for malaria disease.
Featured on of the celebration day were malaria prevention measures and lessons taught by NetsForLife (NfL)Team Leaders Mganulwa Masima and Gordon Chibanhila, Health Coordinator John Challo and Health Educator Mariam Abdalah.
The older primary school children had been coached to creatively use song, poem and story about malaria prevention information to interact with the presentation. Their offerings surpassed expectations!
The chorus refrain embodied a hard truth: Malaria prevails as a calamity, plague or misfortune (balaa) in the nation.
However, in its deeper meaning, â€œbalaaâ€ connotes grief - a much harsher reality. Malaria kills more than 100,000 people each year in Tanzania.
One of Africa's poorest countries, Tanzania contends with many health, economic, and social maladies. But malaria's contribution tops many lists with 16-18 million cases yearly (42 million population), causing 35% of hospitalizations, 30% of TZ disease burden, 37% of the deaths for children under five, and with anemia, is responsible for 25% of maternal deaths.
DCT-NetsforLife with its volunteers is fighting back! Our program is prevention and behavior change oriented by going into villages, homes, schools and special focal groups to spread the word literally regarding measures and means to curtail the disease and create a "net culture."
In addition to special group targets, our village program covered 37,999 people in 2010. The program added 63,869 for 2011, totaling over 101,000 men, women and children.
Due to country restrictions, we distribute a selective number of bed nets (Long Lasting Insecticide Treated Nets/LLITNs as approved by NfL and health professionals). The Ministry of Health net allocation in Bahi has been fair, but effective use only happens through proper technique training and dispelling traditional and/or inaccurate misinformation. Officials say our instructive methodology has been crucial in providing comprehensive information. The government has not, nor will have, the capacity to educate as needed.
A recent Guardian newspaper editorial headline stated, "Malaria or no malaria, prevention is decisive."
The editor acknowledged the government treatment and awareness campaign over the past several years, and lauded the collaboration of giants like Global Fund, PSI, etc along with Ifakara Health Institute partnerships.
He stated that the solution could not be just in medical experts armed with the most potent of modern drugs and diagnostic equipment or outdoor spraying and simple net distribution (MG: not being taught sustained use, reinforced with multiple follow ups, is useless) because "there is a lot more to fighting malaria and other communicable diseases."
According to the writer, prevention is key through campaigns and teaching practices [like] insisting on clean environment because "sprucing up our immediate surroundings is for many poor households easily the best way to keep malaria at bay. The removal of breeding sites [and related sanitation measures] "can be less demanding in terms of funding, etc. - and generally much more effective."
Furthermore, to combat the disease, it will take the combined intervention of the government and private players including NGOs and faith-based organizations quite some time before there is a considerable drop in the killer disease.
We concur. It will take the people of Tanzania being immersed in a net culture. Thatâ€™s what we do in DCT-NetsforLife. NfL is needed now more than ever.
Prevention is decisive!
World Malaria Day wasnâ€™t just another day in the lives of the children and teachers of Nghulugano Primary School.
It was a celebration of life.
Magi Griffin of Rome, Ga., is a missionary of the Diocese of Atlanta serving in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika.