Joey Anchondo: Malaria in Rusizi

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By: PCV Joey Anchondo, PC/Rwanda

On my second day in my new village I ran into Mama Jeanette, one of the few people I knew, outside of the health center. The last time I had met her, two months earlier, I had almost no knowledge of Kinyarwanda. Now she was able to explain to me that her son, Enock, was in the health center being treated for malaria. I was worried at first, but she assured me he would be ok. He was about my age, putting him at low risk of his case of malaria getting serious. The next morning I visited him at the health center. After two nights of rest and treatment he was making a good recovery. I was glad to see him again, but felt bad that it was under these circumstances. When I had met him two months earlier, he was one of the only people I had been able to have a conversation with since he spoke French. Although his case of malaria was not serious, I worried about his family.

Rwanda is anomalous for sub-Saharan Africa in many ways. A lot of the culture, landscape and history don’t fit into most people’s pre-fabricated box of what Africa is. The health risks here are no different. Rwanda has one of the lowest rates of HIV/AIDS in its region and its rural health care systems are surprisingly far-reaching and relatively effective. Due to the elevation and temperate climate of Rwanda, many parts of the country are at low risk of malaria.

The region where I live, however, is anomalous within the anomaly of Rwanda. Located in the deep southwest corner of Rwanda, my area is the hottest, most humid and least elevated part of the country. My district, Rusizi, has the most malaria-related deaths per year in Rwanda at 76. Within that district, my sector has the second most malaria cases per year. One of the most important crops to my village is rice, which, of course, is a water-intensive crop that makes lovely breeding grounds for mosquitos. I frequently have students missing class because they have malaria.

I was visiting Enock’s family a few months after he had been at the health center with malaria and decided to ask how many nets the family actually had. This family of 12 had only three mosquito nets. The one I had seen before was old and full of holes. His family is very poor and live in a very small mud house. While I am sure that some of them share beds, I doubt that everyone is protected by the nets. I worried mostly about the youngest, and most vulnerable, children in the family.

This family, my community’s high prevalence of malaria and my students are all reasons I have decided to become more proactive in the fight against malaria. I, along with a nearby health volunteer, will serve as the southwest region’s malaria representatives. Next week I will attend a three-day training session led by PCVs in Kigali to learn more about malaria and what we can do in our communities to help stop it. Hopefully I will be able to educate people and bring a positive change through my efforts.

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