By PCV Chuck Adams, PC/Ethiopia
In the rolling highlands of Ethiopia, malaria zones are largely dictated by the undulating terrain. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Bonga, Ethiopia, a small town straddling a rising ridgeline overlooking the Barta River valley in the Kafa region, where one end of town sits in a marshy, mosquito-filled valley at 1700 meters while the other end of town rises to a largely malaria-free zone above 1850 meters. At the local hospital, malaria is routinely diagnosed in patients traveling from the outskirts of town, the marshy lowlands.
This unique situation creates a false sense of security for Bonga residents, who, when asked, always respond, “Bonga doesn’t have malaria.” While that may be true for those living in the upper reaches of town (generally the more affluent part of Bonga), residents frequently travel from up high to conduct business in the valley on any given day, thus unwittingly exposing themselves to malaria.
Laura Harrington (PC/Ethiopia, 2011-2013) is a volunteer dedicated to combating malaria despite the fact that she is in the Education sector. “In Africa, it’s just impossible to ignore the health issues,” Harrington said. “It affects everything.” With her creative thinking cap on, she figured out a way to bring attention to Bonga’s malaria blind spot.
On May 2, 2012, Harrington organized a World Malaria Day march with over 120 participating children ages 8-14. The march started from the high end of town and ended, eight kilometers later, at the College of Teacher Education (CTE), in the low end of town. Along the way, participants chanted slogans announcing World Malaria Day and carried hand-made signs promoting malaria awareness in three different languages: English, Amharic, and Kafinoonoo, the local language. To raise awareness on prevention, a fully-erected bed net was also carried by participants.
Another volunteer in Bonga, Chuck Adams (PC/Ethiopia, 2011-2013), organized a meeting hall and refreshments at the CTE so participants could rest after the long march and hear a speech given by Legesse Haile, the head of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Bonga. Awards were given for the best sign in multiple categories and participants were shuttled back up the hill by a bus donated by the CTE for the event.
All told, the event accomplished its goal of raising awareness of malaria’s presence in Bonga. Through the act of walking from high to low, the march showed that malaria must be a concern to all, not just some. “We must all work together to prevent malaria in our community,” said Alemseged Medhane, a retired English teacher and a key counterpart for organizing the event. “Today was a good start.”