Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sewin' in Sambalaobe

With the rainy season in Senegal approaching, the threat of malaria looms like the storm clouds that will soon crowd the horizon.  Malaria is ever-present, a disease falling in bursts here and there upon the unlucky ones (often children under age five) snacked upon by a parasite-laden Anopheles mosquito.  But as the rains and floods come, leaving endless pools of stagnant water where mosquitos can breed – even in spaces as small as animal footprints on the road or leaves on the trees – the number of malaria cases will shoot up even higher.

According to a 2010 UNICEF report, 60% of Senegalese households owned at least one insecticide-treated net, but only 29% of children under age five were sleeping under these nets.  Fortunately, those stats have likely improved in recent years as Senegal has kicked off a “universal coverage” strategy to get every family sleeping under bed nets at night.  Partnering with the U.S. (through USAID, the CDC, Peace Corps) and nonprofits such as Malaria No More and World Vision, the Senegalese government has distributed millions of nets, to even the most remote villages.

As a result, cases of severe malaria have decreased, with some villages actually eliminating malaria deaths.  Combined with the greater availability of rapid malaria diagnostic tests and treatment, malaria is no longer the biggest child killer in Senegal.  But the country is still endemic, and the momentum needs be continued to keep the disease in check.

For us Peace Corps volunteers, the “Stomping Out Malaria” initiative is an important part of our work here in Senegal.  According to the ICPs (head nurses) I spoke with at health posts in Mbour and Kolda, malaria remains one of their biggest problems.  Families might own bed nets, but that doesn’t mean they sleep under them every night.  (I can attest from experience that enclosing yourself in a breeze-blocking net on 100°F nights takes a good bit of willpower.)

Kids with symptoms and fever are not always brought in for malaria tests, especially if the nearest health hut or health post is quite a distance away.  Expectant mothers do not always take IPTp (Intermittent Preventative Treatment for Pregnant ladies).  Health huts and health posts often run out of malaria treatment medication during the rainy season, when demand is highest.  There is still much research and advocacy to be done in Senegal.

For now, in honor of World Malaria Day on April 25, we worked with our Community-Based Training (CBT) host families to practice malaria net repair and care.  Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as sewing holes in nets: I have to master the vocabulary in French and Pulaar to talk about malaria as well.  Getting there, slowly slowly!