Written by Caitlin Costello
Every hand goes up when I ask who has had malaria, but they are stumped when I ask if they can prevent malaria. My audience stares back at me perplexed at first and then eager when I tell them over our week of malaria activities they are going to learn how protect themselves, their families and their communities from malaria.
The audience is HIV positive youth, aged two to twenty. They all temporarily stay at Omoana, a rehabilitation home affiliated with St. Francis Health Center in east Central Uganda. The children are all stage 3 or 4 HIV and/or severely malnourished. They come here so that they and their families can learn how to better take care of their health. The children stay for up to a year, attending the local school and doing weeklong malaria sessions with me!
Our week of activities included a mix between Malaria No More’s “Night Watch” curriculum and interactive malaria games. We sang songs about mosquitoes to get us excited every day and read a book about the importance of net use. We made posters to remind us why it is important for EVERY person to use a mosquito net EVERY NIGHT, and older students created dream banners detailing what they are going to accomplish without malaria to interfere with their dreams.
And at the end of the week we celebrated with certificates, and a malaria piñata to reinforce the importance of net use. Learners hit the net with different kinds of sticks depending on whether or not they used their net last night and/or had a hole in their net. We also learned how to repair nets by sewing up holes (and then with the help of older Omoana residents, fixed ALL Omoana mosquito nets with tears.)
The final day ended in cake provided by Teddy, the resident social worker, and an epic dance party!
Best is that since this education session a month ago, only one child at Omoana has had malaria. Compare this to the 10 to 25 malaria cases a month that used to be typical. Teddy has also started taking our malaria presentation on the road where I present a condensed version of the training at local schools. After translating and co-facilitating, Prossy, mother to a young child at the home and a former teacher, is going to start giving presentations in her own community.
Next month, parents of these youth will be attending a malaria education session including malaria transmission and prevention information, net care information, a skit by the youth on the importance of net use and a subsidized net sale.