Written by Julie Pulombo,¬†National Malaria Coordinator for Peace Corps Zambia
The bed net is one of the most powerful, inexpensive, and effective interventions the world has to fight malaria. In 2014, Zambia completed its first nationwide, simultaneous mass distribution, providing over 8 million long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) free of charge. LLINs protect people while they are sleeping from the bite of the female anopheles mosquito, which primarily bites at night. While bed nets are an influential tool, they must be hung properly, maintained, and used every night in order to be most effective.
Gabrielle is a Peace Corps Volunteer working to promote proper LLIN use in Zambia‚Äôs Eastern Province. Peace Corps Volunteers, like Gabrielle, are placed in some of the most remote areas of Zambia. For two years they live and work in rural areas and become a part of the community. Volunteers are uniquely positioned to help make sure LLINs are put to proper use.
Many Volunteers conduct door-to-door bed net checks with a Community Health Worker or another community member. They provide basic malaria education and assist with sewing holes and hanging nets. The process of going door-to-door provides Volunteers and their Counterpart with an opportunity to connect with the community. It gives them both an opportunity to practice giving malaria education, promote behavior change, gain confidence in their skills, and garner respect from their community.
Not only do bed nets protect people from mosquito bites, they are also treated with insecticide that kills the mosquito when it comes in contact with the LLIN. Research has shown that if 80% of a community uses LLINs then it drastically reduces the mosquito population in the community. This is known as the community effect and it has a positive benefit for everyone whether or not they use their bed net.
Gabrielle took the community effect to heart and developed the 80% Coverage Project. She is working to ensure that 80% of her catchment is using their bed nets. Her catchment has over 7,000 people and received 4,780 LLINs in the 2014 mass distribution. The 80% Coverage Project is highly ambitious and involves Gabrielle biking sometimes up to 20 kilometers and spending over five hours in one day going door-to-door checking bed nets. She began the project in January 2015 and has checked over 1500 nets.
When asked if she can meet her goal, Gabrielle‚Äôs simple response is, ‚ÄúI can do it.‚ÄĚ She is passionate about eliminating malaria and determined to make an impact in her community. The 80% Coverage Project is an outstanding example of the impact Peace Corps Volunteers can make at the grassroots level to reduce malaria in their communities.