December 28, 2015 |

How do you eliminate a disease? With heroes

Malaria trackers to mosquito whisperers: meet some of the heroes ending one of Africa’s most dreaded diseases.
Ephraim Sikalundu, Data collector, and Vincent Munsaka, Community health worker stand in front of the grass huts of Harmony village
Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

It takes all kinds of people to eliminate a disease. Here are a few of the remarkable folks who have stepped up to end malaria in Africa.

Malaria trackers, data collectors, tree climbers

Ephraim (above left) and Vincent have given months of their lives to eliminate malaria. They put in hot 10-hour days walking from homestead to homestead to test and treat every member of every household in a swath of villages in southern Zambia. Over two months, they and 998 other volunteers treated more than 158,000 people.

Ephraim really went the extra mile. His job was to record information about malaria infections on a mobile phone. To get cell reception to transmit the data he collects, he sometimes had to climb trees.

Two children sit in front of a mud wall sit in front of a mud wall and curtained doorway.
Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Brave kids

Each time malaria strikes, Chilufya and Emmanuel (above left and right) have severe headaches and fevers so high they becomes delirious.

But they’re brave. So when Ephraim and Vincent showed up at their home, they stuck out their fingers to help eliminate malaria.

They are two of the thousands of children in Zambia who are taking part in a mass testing and treating program. Neither cried at the prick of the needle used to test them for the disease. Testing and treating the siblings—and everyone else in their village in Zambia—is part of our strategy to end malaria. We’re ridding people’s bodies of hidden malaria so it can’t be passed on.

Human mosquito bait

Three young men stand holding mosquito surveillance tools.
Photo: PATH/Kochelani Saili.

These guys are up at zero-dark hour to get to distant villages by 4 a.m. when the mosquitoes that spread malaria are most active. Once they arrive, they set up a “human landing catch”—one person sits inside a house and another outside—and count the different rates they are bitten by mosquitoes.

Work like this—done to monitor the behavior, population dynamics, and resistance to insecticides of mosquitoes—has earned the PATH entomological surveillance officers nicknames like the “mosquito catchers” and “mosquito whisperers.”

Champions

Chief Singani, chief of the Tonga people, standing outside in front of a grass-roofed house and a flag pole holding a Zambian flag, holding his horsehair fly whisk.
Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Bednets, blood draws for diagnostic tests, and going to the hospital for malaria treatment are new concepts for some people. To overcome fears, traditional chiefs, ministers, and others are leading by example.

“People were afraid of having blood taken,” says Chief Singani of the Tonga people in southern Zambia. When he hears about these concerns, he says, “I go there straight to see the problem, to sensitize them that no, it does not kill, it is not satanic. Once I’m there they say, ‘Our chief is here. Let us listen carefully now.’ In that way, politely, they agree.”

Always-on-duty volunteers

A woman holds up her community health volunteer badge with one hand as she holds her son in the other.
Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

In villages without clinics, volunteer health workers manage the disease from their homes. People with fevers and headaches arrive at all hours to be tested for malaria and, if they test positive, get malaria drugs. To stop the spread of the disease, the volunteers also test and treat anyone living within a 150-meter radius of people who have malaria.

“We are happy to do this work because we are helping the community eliminate the disease,” says Precious Hichaaba.

And they are. In 2004, when a robust malaria control program was launched in Zambia’s Kazangula District, where Precious lives, about 50 percent of the population had malaria over the course of the year. Last year, the number was down to a mere 5 cases out of 1,000 people.

It’s not just a Zambia thing. Volunteer health workers are helping to end malaria in other countries, too.

“As a home-based health provider, I am determined to do my job properly,” says Cecile Ngom from Gassane Village in Senegal. “We will do what it takes to eliminate malaria from our country.”

Sally Motlana and Janet Zhang.
PATH supporter Janet Zhang (R) visits Sally Motlana during a PATH Journeys trip to South Africa. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Supporters like you

Doing whatever it takes. That’s how we feel about ending malaria, too. Thanks in part to our supporters, PATH approaches to malaria have helped save the lives of 6.2 million people worldwide over the last 15 years. Now we’re giving our all to take this campaign to the finish line.

The people of Zambia (and Senegal and so many other places) are brave, and they are ready to create a malaria-free world.

You can support them and the other health heroes we partner with to end disease by making a donation to PATH. No mosquito bites, finger pricks, or tree climbing necessary!

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