National Malaria Workshop

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An unflattering picture of our fearless leader, Grace.

This past week I attended the National Malaria Workshop over in Mansa. The NMW was put together by Peace Corps Zambia’s Malaria Committee, a group of volunteers that are dedicated to supporting anti-malaria work via Peace Corps here in Zambia. This was the first time they had put together a workshop like this and I think it was a pretty big success.

To attend the workshop with me, I brought the head teacher from a local primary school, Friday. Friday is a pretty good guy and his school there is fairly beleaguered. He’s actually the only government teacher at the school, and is nominally responsible for a catchment area that includes 600 kids. Because of school fees and the other issues facing school kids in Zambia, he “only” really teaches about 150, and is helped by “volunteer” teachers in the community (these teachers receive a stipend paid for by school fees). I chose to bring Friday because I have previously done some malaria work with him, and he was really enthusiastic about it. Plus, he reported that attendance improved because fewer kids were getting sick with malaria, so he saw the value in the education.

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Friday (in the awesome track suit) getting the kids excited about fighting malaria.

The workshop was over three days. The first day was mostly about teaching us about malaria. Things like how it is transmitted and the history of malaria and the current state of malaria in Zambia. The counterparts really enjoyed this portion, especially some of the videos about how malaria is transmitted and about the lifecycle of malaria. As for the current state of malaria in Zambia, it’s bad. Sub-Saharan Africa is rife with malaria, and it is really hard to combat here. The prevalence of malaria is very high, most people live in far remote rural villages where it is hard for the government to come in and work on malaria eradication, and since the governments of many of these countries are chronically under-funded anyways it is hard to put resources towards the problem.

On the second day, we learned about care groups, which is a strategy for reaching a large number of households. The way this program works is someone like a PCV will lead a group of about 10 volunteers from the community. The PCV will teach these volunteers about malaria and different prevention strategies and the like and then the volunteers are responsible for going out to about 10 households and teaching them. So that way one “expert” can reach 100 households on a regular basis. I thought that was a really good strategy and depending on Friday’s enthusiasm we might implement it. In the afternoon though we introduced Malaria GRS. One of the really cool parts of this workshop is that on the third day we went to a local school and we actually had a field day. So the afternoon of the second day was spent preparing for that.

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Me, holding up a “NOSENSE” sign.

The field day on the third day was really cool. I think workshops are best when they are hands on; I find a lot of counterparts are visual learners who need to see and do something before they really “get” it. So being able to go to a local school and actually implement some of the interventions we learned during the workshop was awesome. My group was in charge of “Fact/Nonsense,” which is a game where you read the students different statements about malaria, and they decide if the facts are indeed facts or if they are nonsense. Intrinsically, the game is a little boring, but the counterparts in my group (and especially Friday) worked really hard to make it exciting for the kids, with a lot of running around and yelling and all that jazz. It gets the kids talking about malaria and seeing what they already know in a group setting with their friends. We ran through it four times with four different groups, giving different people a chance to lead it. So that went really awesome.

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Counterparts and volunteers from Northern Province in front of the school’s malaria mural.

The workshop wrapped up pretty soon after the field day but I think it really had a lot of value. It brought counterparts together so they could talk about what was going on in their communities, and the workshop taught all of us some cool interventions and strategies for reducing the burden of malaria in Zambia. I know Friday was especially enthusiastic. He kept thanking me for “blessing” him with the opportunity to come to the workshop and learn. Now the trick will be to harness that enthusiasm back in the village to help eradicate malaria, but frankly I don’t think that’ll be too much of a problem. Malaria is such a burden here in Zambia and anything we can do to help ease that burden for our neighbors will be pretty awesome.

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