On November 3, I headed out to Peace Corps Volunteer Taylor’s school in Western Province. The objective? Teach about malaria prevention with a focus on malaria transmission as well as community responsibility and mobilization. Through this program, we reached 120 students, as well as seven teachers working as facilitators.
I was lucky to work with Theoneste, an excellent counterpart of Taylor’s, who helped with translations and different aspects of the program.
We worked with 40 students at a time, subsequently dividing those groups into subgroups broken down by proximity of students to each other (by cell/village area). Each group prepared presentations to bring back to their communities, both for neighbor exclusive discussions as well as presentations and net care demonstrations to do at Umuganda, Rwanda’s community service day that happens on the last Saturday of every month.
By the end of the day, a majority of the students were able to identify symptoms of malaria and explain different important prevention behaviors like removing stagnant water and seeking treatment as early as possible.
However, over 80% of the students said that they believed if they contracted malaria, they did not increase the risk of malaria for those around them.
The activities we implemented with the students directly address this issue.
Theoneste and I worked on explaining the idea of community responsibility in malaria prevention: using a mosquito net, seeking treatment early, and removing stagnant water are not activities only for self-protection; they help to protect others in the community, especially those most vulnerable (pregnant mothers, children under 5 and HIV positive individuals in the community.) [Rwanda MOP]
An important statement for students to understand is simply, mosquitoes will always exist, but malaria doesn’t have to.
Female mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles transmit malaria from one person to another. (CDC) However, there can be an anopheles mosquito that does not carry malaria and then receives the parasite from a human host. After the parasite has developed in the body of the mosquito, that mosquito can then carry the parasite to another human host.
We created a short story to talk about an adult who has acquired immunity (not fully protected but has some built up resistance to malaria). The story involved an adult who allows themselves to get malaria by not following proper prevention methods. They are being irresponsible not just for their sake, but also to the community where they live, and are increasing the risk for children and others around them through their behavior. This case-study seemed to really resonate with the audience and put further emphasis on malaria prevention as a community endeavor.
Culturally, community responsibility and working together to face challenges is a beneficial and highly important value in Rwanda. “Turi Kumwe” means “we are together”, and sending the message of community protection is well accepted as a cultural concept. Regarding malaria, this message is new to some student programs, and must be combined with continued reminders and ongoing activities on net use and care, as well as other prevention methods.
These activities were successful, but have a second objective: mobilization. Students are the most effective leaders of behavior change both in their families, and in the future as they graduate and move into places of leadership in their careers. We hope to continue to update and add on to these programs in our ongoing fight to reduce the burden of malaria in Rwanda.