Tap Tap SWAT! Ghana adds a modern twist to one of Peace Corps oldest initiatives

Ghana STOMP Hackathon

For Peace Corps volunteers, the rate at which we are required to adapt to new situations with creativity and flexibility can at times be overwhelming. The limited stay in our host countries, combined with the speed at which the international community is developing alongside our villages, builds pressure for action. Thankfully, recent technological developments and greater ease of access to various mobile devices has set the stage for a dramatic shift in the way Peace Corps volunteers work with their host countries to disseminate valuable life saving information.

Ghana STOMP Hackathon

Participants in the Ghana STOMP Hackathon

In an effort to optimize resources, Peace Corps Ghana SWAT Malaria Initiative teamed up with Tech Think Tank and an impressive crew of nearly 27 computer programmers to address one of Ghana’s greatest burdens, malaria. The result of this collaboration was a “Hackathon,” with malaria being the sole focus.

With the support of Coders4Africa and space provided by Mobile Web Ghana, the event kicked off on the morning of July 12th in Madina with 23 host country nationals and 4 PVC’s present, including hackathon innovator Joshua Kim. After greetings, PCV and Masters International student Matthew Ward gave an introduction, which included the event’s goals and some humbling statistics to aid participants in understanding the magnitude of the challenge before them. Patrick Choquette and Matthew McAllister of Peace Corps’ Department for Innovation in DC even took time from their weekend to Skype-in during lunch and offer their support.

Living in a malaria endemic country, it is of the upmost importance that we fully understand the problem and continuously work towards new solutions. With nearly 3.5 million reported cases of malaria annually, it remains the number one killer in Ghana. Roughly 1/3 of all reported cases in Ghana are in children under the age of five. This equates to nearly 7 newly diagnosed cases of malaria every minute and almost 40 deaths of children under the age of 5 every day.

Following the introduction to the mission, Matthew Ward & Joshua Kim laid out 4 different projects that focused on designing software applications to strengthen the fight against malaria by increasing awareness and education. Motivated participants wasted no time and began furiously coding, both adapting old ideas and constructing new solutions. Participants included representatives from Wikimedia, Google, Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology and Coders4Africa, just to name a few. The first day wrapped up with devoted participants requesting permission to work on their projects at home.

Cooperation and idea sharing continued to flow like ‘fanta’ as new faces including a few curious PCV’s arrived the second day. In talking with Selmon Banybah, representative of the Ghana chapter of Coders4africa, he shared his sentiments for working with Peace Corps volunteers by stating, “They bring joy to all the work they do.” This was the third hackathon Selmon participated in with Peace Corps volunteers and definitely hopes it will not be his last.

After a few concentrated hours it was time to display the finished products; presenters plugged into the projector and shared the work of the last two days. The first mobile application, modeled off the game show Jeopardy, included 4 sections of malaria related questions rated on level of difficulty. As players answered correctly, the questions became increasingly more difficult. The second mobile application likened a modern version of duck hunter, wherein players swatted mosquitoes as they flew quickly across the screen. Players were awarded points for killing as many mosquitoes as possible, all the while being provided the option to make monetary donations to malaria prevention efforts. The third and final mobile application of the day shared a quiz bowl type game that included a variety of informative malaria facts.

Mobile applications were then judged on a number of criteria, including: practical application, visual completeness, and overall identification with the malaria mission. Peace Corps Volunteer Matthew Oneil closed the event by presenting awards to each of the participants. Overall the event succeeded on multiple levels, bringing together local experts with Peace Corps Volunteers and generating new tools in the age-old fight against malaria in Ghana.

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Posted in Ghana, Uncategorized, Weekly Awesome

TBT: My one year anniversary on World Malaria Day

Sarah Genelle Castagnola, PCV Uganda

Do you miss reading about World Malaria Day? So do we! This week we are throwing it back to an incredible volunteer, highlighting her admirable efforts on World Malaria Day. Check out  Sarah Genelle Castagnola, as she reflects on her first year of service and her innovative radio show project. 

Sarah Genelle Castagnola, PCV Uganda

Sarah Genelle Castagnola, PCV Uganda

Today marked my one year anniversary in Uganda. Everyone says in Peace Corps the days are long but the two years go by quickly. So far, I couldn’t agree more. Out of our group of 28, we are now 23 in country. I can say we all have had really high highs and really low lows. When I look back now on the 4 months I spent in Ghana or the 2 months I spent in Aceh, Indonesia or Nicaragua I am shocked I accomplished anything. I feel like I am only now starting to really understand the culture I am immersed in and the people who I spend everyday with.

Today I traveled to Kasese town (Yes 3G internet!) to do a radio show for World Malaria Day. Malaria has a huge emotional and economic impact in Uganda. It is the leading cause of death in Uganda. In fact 90% of all malaria cases are in sub-saharan Africa. In a recent survey published, an estimated 25% of Ugandan’s income is spent on treatment for malaria. Where I live the number one thing to prevent malaria is to simply sleep under a mosquito net. I religiously tuck my net around my bed every night. This is admittedly to keep not only mosquitoes but also the mice and other insects that roam freely around my house out of my bed.

Human behavior is difficult to change. The government distributes nets for free throughout Uganda however most people use them for fishing and chicken coops. The most you can do is to provide information, incentivize healthy actions and try to stage interventions to improve the usage rate of nets. I wrote and received a small grant to put on a radio show to talk more about net usage, treatment options and to give people the opportunity to call in and ask questions. Lady J of Kasese’s Radio Messiah hosted me, a doctor from Kagando (whose mother is one of our farmers), Manasi, a radio host who works closely with Bukonzo Joint and Will, another Peace Corps volunteer in Kasese.

The doctor talked about malaria in Uganda explaining what it is, prevention, transmission and treatment. We also had people call in and ask questions. Questions ranged from, “What malaria drugs are okay to take while pregnant?” to “I heard that if you sleep under a net it makes you crazy and you start speaking incoherently and have nightmares, is this true?”

As with most projects I do here, there were a lot of challenges which all worked out in the end. The doctor, who was our main presenter, arrived 20 minutes late due to the CDC visiting his hospital on the same day. We also had a miscommunication about the price of the show. It turns out the show was 9,000 ugx a minute so the amount I received from the malaria grant only afforded one hour not two. Also, during our malaria trivia game both MTN and Orange phone networks went out and Warid was going on and off. Despite the doctor arriving late, he did an excellent job and was completely prepared for the show. I was able to negotiate two hours, though we only paid for one, with some charm. We also decided that the malaria trivia would be asked on the radio the next 5 days 3 times a day giving listeners the opportunity to call in and to win the roasted coffee Bukonzo Joint had donated as prizes. Overall, all these issues worked out to our benefit. Malaria information will now be repeated and disbursed throughout the week and Bukonzo Joint will continue to get free advertising for 5 days instead of 1. We wrapped up the show by 7pm. An estimated 500,000 listeners were tuned in tonight. I am hoping a few more start sleeping under their net.

Read more about Sarah’s experience on her blog!

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Posted in BAMM, Uganda, Weekly Awesome

Cameroon: Reinvigorating malaria prevention efforts

Antonia Lloyd-Davies, PCV Cameroon

How can you make a town hear a message they’ve fallen deaf to? Well, with a megaphone, of course!

Unfortunately, people here in Cameroon already know about malaria. I call it unfortunate because if they had never heard of it, and you told
them about a brand new illness that killed more African children every year than anything else, they would fear it. They would rise up in arms to fight it at all costs, saving their lives and their children’s lives. But malaria isn’t new to them. It isn’t sexy. It’s mundane, and they aren’t motivated or compelled to inconvenience themselves to fight it, even when the inconvenience is hanging a mosquito net that was given to them free of cost.

When it comes to taking lives, malaria has a partner in crime: apathy. We already know how to fight malaria; our next battle is against its accomplice. This was the mindset I tried to take when planning my World Malaria Day project. What is holding the citizens of my town back from protecting themselves and their families against this deadly illness?Antonia Lloyd-Davies, PCV Cameroon

One: Inertia.

A number of people in my town and throughout Cameroon received free mosquito nets in a country-wide 2011 distribution, but have yet to hang them up. They brought them back to the house from the health center and put them in a drawer somewhere to age with dignity, while never serving their function. In an effort to kick people back into gear, several other volunteers and I started a door-to-door net hang-up campaign. We brought hammers, nails, and twine and, perhaps most importantly, a nudge to get those dormant nets up and hung at last.

Two: White Noise.

paluproj3Warnings and threats about the dangers of malaria have become a
buzz in the background of daily life. I wanted to personally engage the people in my town by having one-on-one conversations. An educational poster or banner is too easy to ignore. During the door-to-door component of my project, we got to have frank discussions with each neighbor. The information and advice we gave them was tailored to their situation. If they had a mosquito net, we made sure that the most vulnerable members of the family were the ones sleeping under it. If they didn’t, we informed them of other preventative measures and encouraged them to purchase a net at the pharmacy.
By literally entering their homes and confronting them, we made the danger of malaria impossible to ignore.

The second stage of my project, setting up a market day booth, similarly focused on bringing our information to the front of people’s minds. We made announcements via megaphone in French, English, and the local language to be accessible to the largest number of people. When visitors passed by, we engaged them in a conversation about malaria and offered them an interactive bag of questions to quiz themselves. This engagement is the key difference between back-of-the-mind knowledge and actual behavior change.

Three: A “Wow” Factor.

Teaching about the parasitic life cycle of female Anopheles mosquitoes has its place in malaria prevention, but it doesn’t exactly scare people into action. The citizens of Bafang have heard a million times that they should use a mosquito net. I wanted to tell them something new, something that would make them really see the gravity of this disease. Our market booth had bottles full of beans to present new information in a visually gripping way. Each of the five bottles represented one of the top five causes of illness (in Bafang in 2013), and contained one bean for each case. While respiratory infection, the second greatest cause of morbidity, had 803 cases, malaria, the first, had 4532. As people walked by our booth, they saw over five times the number of beans in the malaria bottle as in any other. This new way of presenting information, along with a number of other chilling statistics, hopefully uprooted their belief that malaria is an inevitable and nonthreatening reality of life and lit a spark for concern.


Although malaria will surely continue to be a problem in Bafang and throughout sub-Saharan Africa, I believe my project was successful in planting the seeds of change for at least some members of my town. Through the door-to-door campaign, we sensitized over 150 households and hung up seven previously idle mosquito nets. At our market booth, we distributed 400 informational pamphlets, and reached countless passers-by through conversations and megaphone announcements. We encouraged all those with whom we spoke to spread and share the information to their family, friends, and neighbors. We may not have eradicated malaria. But if some citizens of Bafang begin to take malaria more seriously and practice preventative measures, especially for the most vulnerable members of the household, then I think we can all, under our insecticide-treated nets, sleep a little more soundly.

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Posted in BAMM, BAMM Blog Roll, Cameroon, Weekly Awesome

Intern Spotlight: Serena Hagerty

serena plane phtot

Meet our summer intern!

serena plane phtotSerena is an undergraduate student at Harvard pursuing a joint degree in psychology and economics. At school she has been involved in several public health groups, such as the Harvard Undergraduate Malaria Colloquium, and hopes to ultimately develop a career in public health. More specifically, Serena is interested in behavioral economics and how it can be used to improve health systems.

When did you become interested in malaria?

In fifth grade I had to write a term paper for my European History class, which I was dreading. However, one of the potential topics was the Black Death which immediately sparked my interest. I absolutely devoured that assignment and began reading every book on infectious diseases I could find. My fascination in infectious diseases continued in high school, so, like any normal 15-year old, I begged my parents to send me to a biomedical research summer program (e.i. Nerd Camp). For the last two weeks of the program each student focused on one disease for their final paper. I chose malaria and that summer paper ultimately led me to write my senior thesis on malaria prevention methods.

What brought you to Stomping Out Malaria?

I did some research on different malaria initiatives and public health opportunities, but Stomp was absolutely the most exciting. I was really drawn to the idea of “scrappiness” as a key value. Stomp does an incredible job of maximizing impact with limited resources and rising to any challenge- I immediately wanted to get involved!

What have you been working on?

The first few weeks I was primarily reviewing  research on early treatment as a form of prevention. With the obvious success of the PECADOM + model in the field, I was pulling together evidence in literature that would further support this model. I also put together literature reviews on the current economic burden of malaria in Africa and the importance of parasite density in the transmission cycle.

Now I am working on different aspects of the Stomping Out Malaria website and incorporating more visuals. I have been playing around with different infographics and innovative ways of displaying Stomp’s incredible resources. Ultimately, I will be helping to compile a “How-To Guide” for implementing the PECADOM+ model on a larger scale.

What are your plans for the future?

As of right now, the dream is to enroll in a joint JD/MPH program after college (when I come back from my PC service, obviously). I could stay in school forever, so I am really just an aspiring professional student.

Favorite quote?

“A party without a cake is just a meeting.” -Julia Child


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Posted in Weekly Awesome

Charlotte Steppling, Madagascar

Malaria PCV of the Week- Charlotte Stepling, Madagascar

The Scoop on Charlotte

Malaria PCV of the Week- Charlotte Stepling, Madagascar

Malaria PCV of the Week- Charlotte Stepling, Madagascar

Charlotte began her service in September 2013 as an Education PCV in the village of Mahanoro in the eastern Atsinanana region of Madagascar. In addition to teaching, Charlotte currently serves as the Regional Malaria Coordinator for the east coast.

Stellar Stats

As an education volunteer, Charlotte has dedicated her time not only to teaching English, but to teaching English with a focus on malaria. With her English club, she has encouraged students to practice their language skills by making videos about malaria awareness and education. Her club is also working on a three-part malaria mural in the community.

For World Malaria Day in 2014, Charlotte conducted supply chain assessments, giving Peace Corps and government officials a solid insight on the availability of the East coast’s malaria commodities. She also spent hours on social media spreading malaria messages, reaching out to friends in and out of Madagascar, and helped organize a successful malaria festival in her village with over 500 villagers in attendance!

During Stomp Out Malaria’s 2014 Malaria Heroes competition, Charlotte and her counterpart were selected as finalists, placing in the top five of all participants across Africa.

Her peers say it best:
“Charlotte is one of the most genuine people I have ever met. Everything she does, she gives 100% and every time you need something, she’s right there to help you. It’s a comforting feeling and I’m lucky to be her friend and fellow PCV!”

Our Two Cents

Thanks for your great work, Charlotte. We look forward to following your malaria prevention and education activities throughout your service!

Posted in Malaria PCV of the Week

The Big Day of Malaria at VTC Mpanda: Umunsi Mukuru wa Malariya at VTC Mpanda

During a Peace Corps- sponsored Behavior Change Communication and Project Design & Management conference in February, I worked with my counterparts, Nshimyimana Beatrice and Niyorugira Placide, to develop a malaria event at our school, VTC Mpanda, located in southern Rwanda’s Ruhango District. The mosquito nets obtained by the previous Peace Corps Volunteer were recently hung in the dormitories, and we felt it was an appropriate time for all students to receive a brief education on the prevention and treatment of malaria. We would hold a celebration, a Big Day for Malaria, or as we liked to call it, “Umunsi Mukuru wa Malariaya.”

In the week following the conference, we began planning a Training of Trainers (TOT) for student leaders in order to prepare them to teach the entire student body. The agenda included a modified NightWatch curriculum, and an application of skills, wherein students could practice washing and repairing their nets. Time was also set aside to sign ‘Dream Banners,’ so students could pledge to sleep under their mosquito net every night. The TOT occurred three weeks before our planned Umunsi Mukuru. The hope was that afterwards, student leaders would volunteer to be the Master of Ceremonies, or emcee, at the event and write sketches or songs about malaria prevention.

Unfortunately, the initial response at the TOT was not overwhelming. We re-examined the lesson plan, and realized it lacked excitement. We had planned to use the same lesson plan for the Umunsi Mukuru, but it was too long and a bit lackluster. If we left it the same, we feared students would lose interest and be disinclined to attend the event. We altered the lesson plan to only include a summary of the NightWatch facts, an overview of the malaria situation in Mpanda Cell and Rwanda, a skills-building section, and several sketches, which students in Rwanda love.

Afterwards, we met with the Media and Anti-SIDA Clubs at school. At these meetings, we discussed the goals and tentative outline of the Umunsi Mukuru. Many students were interested in being an emcee, and in helping to teach the proper care of mosquito nets. The emcees and student volunteers received a script in Kinyarwanda, and those wanting to create a sketch or song reviewed suggested topics on the prevention and treatment. These students then used the next 10 days to practice their scripts, sketches, and songs.

On the day of the event, we met with the student volunteers beforehand to review how to properly wash (i.e. gently, every 6 months) and repair a mosquito net. Much to my joy, they remembered, and the Umunsi Mukuru soon commenced. The Main Hall was filled to capacity, and remained full for the entirety of the event.


Students at VTC Mpanda gather for the Umunsi Mukuru wa Malariaya, or Big Day for Malaria.

The final agenda for the celebration was developed by the students of the Media Club, and included the NightWatch facts, a malaria overview, two sketches, and one rap, interspersed with students dancing to Rwandan’s favorite pop stars, Knowless, Sean Paul, and the Urban Boys. Five students then taught the audience how to properly care for their new mosquito nets. The Umunsi Mukuru concluded with students being asked to come on stage and sign ‘Dream Banners,’ publicly promising to use their mosquito nets every night.

image (1)

The MC’s present the Umunsi Mukuru wa Malariaya, or Big Day for Malaria, at VTC Mpanda.


Overall, the Umunsi Mukuru wa Malariya was a huge success. The celebration would not have been possible without the assistance from my counterparts and student leaders. The emcees and other students knew exactly how to make the material interesting and engaging, and Niyorugira and NSHIMYIMANA encouraged and supported my efforts for behavior change at VTC Mpanda.

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Posted in Rwanda

Artesunate Pre-Transfer Treatment: A New Malaria-Fighting Program Rolls Out in Saraya


With the rainy season already upon us in Kedougou, Senegal, a new stepping stone on the path to malaria elimination will be piloted in the Saraya department in the coming months.  Unique amongst other malaria initiatives, this program focuses not on preventing malaria or early treatment, but rather on retarding the development of severe malaria, known as palu grave in French, in children under 5 through the use of suppositories.

The motivation behind this initiative is a simple, yet serious problem: in children under 5, the development and spread of severe malaria can sometimes occur too quickly to get the child the care he needs at the nearest hospital or health post.  Bad road conditions, lack of reliable transportation, and sheer distance can all preclude timely treatment of severe malaria cases – sometimes with fatal consequences.

The artesunate pre-transfer treatment was thus conceptualized.  True to its name, the treatment would be given to patients pre-transfer – that is, before they are transported to the nearest health facility to receive a quinine drip.  Medical professionals have designed small capsules, nicknamed rectocaps in French, to be inserted into the rectum of the child suffering from severe malaria.  There, the medicine within each rectocap is quickly absorbed into the child’s bloodstream, slowing down the disease’s progression and reducing its lethality, thereby granting the family more time to get the sick child to a treatment center.

Much like the artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) tablets that treat simple malaria, the rectocaps contain a blend of different malaria-fighting medications in varying gram dosages.  Children 0-12 months receive a dose of 50 mg; children 12-42 months, 100 mg; and children 43-60 months, 200 mg.  The rectocaps will be supplied in a variety of doses, with the 50 mg and 100 mg capsules in the largest quantities.  This will allow them to be used in the event that the larger doses run out.

Earlier this month in the beautiful new Saraya hospital, select ICPs, ASCs, DSDOMs, and two Peace Corps volunteers from around the Saraya department came together to learn about this pioneering new initiative.  The training lasted all day and progressed from a review and discussion of simple versussevere malaria and the community health workers’ personal experiences in diagnosing and treating malaria to the introduction of the rectal artesunate treatment model, posology, and methodology.  Additionally, the participants were given practical training on how to fill out the necessary documents and forms to monitor the new program.

The initiative has yet to be rolled out within the Saraya department – indeed, all of the area’s health workers have yet to be trained – so we have yet to see what the reality of the artesunate treatment will be; however, the program seems promising and, if performed correctly, has the potential to save hundreds of children’s lives.  It provides community health workers with yet another tool in their malaria fighting tool belt, and hopefully will help Senegal come one step closer to elimination of malaria.

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Posted in Senegal

Is Education about Malaria Enough to Make a Difference?

Malaria is a disease that ails many people in Rwanda. With lower elevations and a tropical climate in this country’s Eastern province, there are more cases of malaria reported than in other parts of the country.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in the Eastern Province, I have witnessed teachers, students, and fellow peers contracting the malaria disease on a regular basis.

This year we have had multiple “eliminating malaria” initiatives: the Malaria Bike Tour across the Eastern province, the Malaria Expo, and other malaria educational projects carried out by Peace Corps volunteers across the country. More Rwandans have been edified of the disease and taught how to prevent the disease through seminars, lessons, and sport related events. Infections have been declining at an encouraging level.

But do the Rwandan people, especially the ones living in the village, care enough about malaria?

Some are concerned about their poverty and the status of their homes.

“I am hungry; I have no food to feed my family. Look at my house; I do not even have enough money to afford windows to put on my house. I do not even have a proper bed and stable walls to hang up a net. Finding where my family and I will eat is an even bigger problem on my mind than contracting malaria,” a villager in Karembo sector said.

Many rural Rwandans are aware of the disease and the ways of preventing it. They know they can mitigate mosquito bites by using insecticide-treated nets with and wearing protective clothing. When someone is infected, medication can be used to eliminate the virus from their bloodstream.

But some people are unconcerned even though they know the devastating effects malaria can cause. The battle against malaria is in fact a battle against people who do not think malaria is that important of a fight.

“I don’t like sleeping under mosquito nets; it makes me uncomfortable,” said a student at E.S Kabirizi, the school I teach at. On the malaria Bike Tour, several volunteers came to my school and taught Malaria lessons to the whole school.

Interested in malaria elimination, my Rwandan counterpart, Muvunyi Pacifique, and I, attended the Peace Corps Rwanda’s Malaria Expo in Muhanga, in the Southern Province of Rwanda, PCVs and concerned Rwandans from all over the country were also there. We were taught prevention and motivational strategies and equipped with tools to return to our village and mobilize those around us. We aimed to enlighten our fellow villagers with ways to prevent malaria.

I remember walking into Pacifique’s room and seeing a mosquito net hang above his bed. Previously, before the conference, he didn’t have a net.

“The Malaria Expo changed my life and showed me how deadly malaria can be and now I know strategies to control malaria. Malaria suppression medication is expensive, but at least I know that sleeping under a net can help to prevent malaria,” Pacifique said.

Excited and ready to make a change in the village, we organized a malaria themed football tournament. Before every game, we spoke about malaria and how to prevent it.

But then I wonder, how many people actually went to their health centers or malaria net distribution hubs and requested a net?

As we have seen over the decades, education alone does not influence behavior. We need to come up with more incentives that will make the people respond prolifically and with an optimal level of interest. Some people are poor and do not even have the necessary means to hang up a net.

Malaria initiatives should be vis a vis other development issues.


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Posted in Rwanda

Jeunes Contre Le Palu! (Youth Against Malaria!)


Alongside local teachers and nurses, Ben DeMuth (Agribuisness PCV) and Emily Feher (Health PCV) developed and implemented a short youth-centered program for the students at the high school and technical school in their village called Jeunes Contre le Palu (Youth against malaria).  It was a program that taught life skills such as how to set a goal and make a plan of action to reach their goals, but also focused on malaria transmission and prevention, and how they can be agents of change in their community to promote healthy malaria prevention behaviors.


The program included a few different arts-based components, one of which included painting a malaria-themed world map at both schools. The maps included messages about malaria in the global, African and Cameroonian context as well as malaria prevention images around the world map. This was a great opportunity for the youth to work together on a project and use skills they learned through the program in a real-life setting.IMG_0705


The other arts-based component consisted of giving participants access to a digital camera to film their everyday lives while keeping the main themes of the program in mind. They went out in the community and recorded interviews with local leaders, spoke with their role models, asked people about their experiences with malaria and took pictures of people correctly (and incorrectly) using their mosquito nets, for example.


We compiled everything they filmed into a kind of movie and we had a screening of their work during the closing ceremony of the program. Invitees at the ceremony included health personnel, traditional leaders, government workers, teachers and other community members. We invited many of the personnel from the hospital and a variety of different community representatives to the closing ceremony because we wanted it to be a community event, encouraging important dialogue about the impact of malaria on the community and how to support youth to reach their goals and objectives in life.

The youth participants were IMG_1427
successful in sparking a kind of community debate, focusing on the barriers to malaria prevention that they discovered while talking to
community members during the outreach portion of the program. Everyone spoke honestly and respectfully and it seemed like the youth actually felt that they had a voice, even if it was a small platform. It’s amazing what you get when you give young people a camera, a bit of information, and an open-ended assignment.



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Posted in Cameroon, Weekly Awesome, Youth Camps

“But I’m not a health volunteer!”: Why other sectors should care about malaria too

youth and agro

While the rationale for health volunteers to work with malaria is clear, the role of other volunteers in sustainable malaria prevention can sometimes be vague. However, we can argue that other sectors actually have more reasons to do prevention, either because of the effects of malaria on their sector, the population they work with, or the effect that their sector can have on malaria transmission.  Genevieve LaCon, a Health volunteer in Cameroon, explains why malaria prevention is particularly relevant in the domain of agriculture, and provides concrete examples of how Peace Corps Volunteers and farmers can work together to prevent malaria:

Ben AgroMalaria is integrally tied to agricultural land usage as well as productivity. In Africa, malaria accounts for indirect costs of 1.3% of GDP growth per year (Roll Back Malaria). A significant portion of this loss occurs via agricultural productivity. Farmers lack key information about how malaria and agriculture are related, and what they can do themselves to lower their risk. Agriculture volunteers have many opportunities to effect change in this area, mainly through education and capacity building of farmers. To do work with malaria in the agriculture sector, it’s essential to understand 3 key aspects of the agriculture/malaria intersection:

  • Certain agricultural and land use practices can increase malaria transmission
  • Malaria can have significant negative impacts on agricultural productivity
  • Agribusiness can prevent malaria transmission by employing practices that decrease disease and increase productivity.

Practices that increase malaria transmission

1)    Irrigation agriculture: Irrigation is commonly used in agriculture in areas of low or inconsistent rainfall, typically in arid or semi arid regions. It is commonly connected to rice and sugar cane cultivation (both popular in Cameroon). While irrigation is often essential for growing products in some areas, inefficient drainage can cause water to remain stagnant, creating breeding areas for mosquitoes (one of the major vectors of malaria in Cameroon, Anopheles funestus, LOVES rice fields for this reason). This is important both in areas of seasonal and year-round transmission, increasing malaria transmission especially in at-risk groups.

What you can do- educate farmers about improved irrigation

2)    Standing water: Mosquitoes breed in standing water. Anopheline mosquitoes in particular, breed in standing water that is typically manmade, including puddles, ditches, irrigation routes, even the runoff from forages. These are very often tied to agricultural practices that don’t take into account proper drainage.

youth and agroWhat you can do- Tree planting around some areas- what used to be drainage can now be a place to grow things! Consider planting something with great health benefits, like fruit trees. In some cases though, this isn’t possible, so consider educating people about building better drain-off areas. Good drainage can also improve productivity near crops by not inundating them with water.

1)    Deforestation and Expansion of farming into new areas: Deforestation, in addition to having a whole host of negative effects on the environment, also increases malaria transmission. How does this happen? Cutting down trees impacts the local ecosystem, changing sunlight, heat, humidity, and vegetation, as well as creating bodies of standing water, discussed above. Long term, this can also impact mosquito behavior, changing biting times and areas.

Youth and agro 2What can you do? Education is key here, making sure that new farms do not create new areas for mosquitoes to breed.

Negative impacts of malaria on productivity

1)    Crop Productivity: When farmers are sick or die due to malaria, crop yields are lower due to the reduced work done to cultivate crops.

2)    Financial problems: Families that consistently have to treat malaria spend money they could use to increase their production and use on their household. In extreme circumstances, people may be forced to sell off their resources to pay for medical bills. This in turn can impact farm output

3)    Agricultural Innovation: Long term, death and illness due to malaria stagnates development of new best practices in agriculture.

care group

What can you do: Here, incorporating planning for health, health education, etc is great work you can do with farmers groups, Common Initiative Groups (CIGs/GICs). Consider looking at information about care groups for more information about how to use the care group approach in your community.

Practices that decrease malaria

1)    Increasing farmer access to malaria treatment: True with all groups, but especially true with farmers, who often put themselves at higher risk by going to their fields for extended amounts of time, often sleeping there to prevent transport costs.

2)    Increasing prevention activities by farmers: Often at the start of rainy season there is a spike in malaria transmission. While there are many reasons for this, farmers sleeping in their fields during high work periods certainly contributes a number of cases. When farmers sleep in their fields without nets, they expose themselves to more mosquitoes than normal, raising their chances for malaria.DSC00373

What you can do: Consider training net care and maintenance during a meeting (especially near rainy season), and net transformation so that farmers taking nets to the field can easily hang and use nets.

Training farmers on sustainable agriculture practices: Training farmers on practices that use less water, and practices that avoid storing water, are key in prevention of mosquito breeding, and in turn malaria transmission. Additionally, education on correct pesticide application can prevent long-term insecticide resistance in mosquitoes.

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Posted in Cameroon, Weekly Awesome