Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In Zimbabwe: Empowering Communities to Fight Malaria

Communities learn what they can do to fight malaria, with support from UMCOR and Imagine No Malaria. Photo credit: Margot Bokanga

By Margot Bokanga*

Against the backdrop of the green hills of Manicaland province, three villages of Ward 22 gathered recently to receive mosquito repellent to protect their loved ones from the current outbreak of malaria in Chimanimani District. This distribution happened during my first field visit to UMCOR’s country office in Zimbabwe. After formal introductions and welcomes by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and UMCOR staff, a prayer was said to bless the day.The prayer is a customary gesture to ask for protection upon the community, only after which the distribution began, headed by community health workers and supported by the Ward 22 Muchadziya Clinic staff.

These communities are currently above the malaria threshold set by the Ministry of Health, which indicates that there is an outbreak of malaria. The communities are aware of the exposure times and risks that malaria poses to their environment, to their ability to earn a living, and to their families’ health. Through conversations, they acknowledged the precautions they are taking. They demonstrated their understanding of how to apply the repellant in order to avoid health concerns, such as eye problems, and to maximize protection against mosquitos. This knowledge check before each distribution is critical as Manicaland is a malaria-burdened province. The anti-malaria lotion, MozLotion, provided by UMCOR is coupled with insecticide-treated bed nets to help families protect themselves both indoors and outdoors.


Mosquito repellant, together with insecticide-treated bed nets, help families ward off malaria. Photo credit: Margot Bokanga

I approached a young mother carrying a boy no older than five and asked if she was present during the UMCOR distribution last September, prior to the most recent outbreak. She said she was and that she had been using the MozLotion, which lasts a family of five about three months. “We diligently used the lotion, and no one in our household has fallen ill by malaria since September,” she said in the Shona language.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of dedicated community members, more than 100, who were present, some of them arriving at the very last minutes of the distribution to pick up the repellent for neighbors, friends, and the elderly. UMCOR Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani team had successfully mobilized the communities, relying on schools, clinics, and ward leaders to get the word out about the time and location of the distribution.

Since 2011, UMCOR Zimbabwe has worked in close partnership with local and community stakeholders to design programs that complement those of the Zimbabwe National Malaria Control Program. The aim is to eradicate the disease here by 2015. Through the training of community health workers, doctors, and nurses in district clinics, distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and repellent such as MozLotion, UMCOR is targeting communities burdened by malaria.

Margot Bokanga poses with a little child during a recent Zimbabwe field visit. Photo credit: James Rollins

This is where, in my humble observation, lies a key element of UMCOR’s malaria strategy in Chimanimani: share knowledge with the communities and support them through social marketing, which allows them to purchase mosquito repellant at low cost.

On this particular day, the community showed up in large numbers for the general distribution funded by Imagine No Malaria. As the rainy season will continue until the end of April, UMCOR, too, will continue to be present for these communities and to offer support to the clinics in the district.

*Margot Bokanga is UMCOR program manager covering Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan.

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