During some of my first weeks in Senegal, when I was living in Dakar, my four-year-old host sister didn’t come down for breakfast one morning. In response to my worried inquiries, her mother shrugged and nonchalantly indicated that the girl was sick, “Elle est malade, c’est le paludisme.” Malaria.
I was shocked. Though I was on prophylaxis drugs and knew malaria was a risk one took by living in Africa, I’d thought of it more as an exotic jungle disease one caught while bush-whacking with a machete, not sitting in a well-furnished living room watching soccer. My host family’s reaction puzzled me. An American traveler friend had said, of contracting malaria that, “I didn’t die, but when I was sick, I sure wished I had.” Why was this not a huge deal?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention “malaria is an infectious blood disease caused by a parasite that is transmitted from one human to another by the bite of infected Anopheles mosquitoes.” With symptoms similar to the flu, malaria induces horrible body aches, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Every 45 seconds, a child dies from malaria. An overwhelming majority of malaria-related deaths occur in Africa, predominantly children under five years of age.
Unfortunately, for many Africans like my host family in Dakar, malaria is just another unfortunate fact of life. But it doesn’t have to be. The United Nations agreed with that statement when they declared the halting and reversal of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015 to be among their Millennium Development goals. Several organizations have cropped up in attempt to aid in this endeavor, among them, Malaria No More (MNM).
In March, the Senegal fellows had the opportunity to meet with representatives from MNM’s Senegal team. We learned more about their creative approach to malaria eradication. Namely, MNM is trying to bring about a shift in the culture surrounding malaria. If it can be understood that far from innocuous, malaria is a BIG, dangerous deal, we can sooner move toward its elimination. MNM has used mass text messaging, song competitions, even involvement of local and national celebrities, among many other creative strategies.
On April 17, I joined many GCY fellows in Dakar to help with and participate in a Malaria No More sponsored 11k walk to raise awareness, one week before World Malaria Day. I walked among a sea of white t-shirts emblazoned with anti-malaria slogans, knowing that everyone there had already acknowledged the seriousness of this curable and preventable disease, and were ready to move forward to the next step: the end of malaria.