TBT: My one year anniversary on World Malaria Day

Sarah Genelle Castagnola, PCV Uganda

Do you miss reading about World Malaria Day? So do we! This week we are throwing it back to an incredible volunteer, highlighting her admirable efforts on World Malaria Day. Check out  Sarah Genelle Castagnola, as she reflects on her first year of service and her innovative radio show project. 

Sarah Genelle Castagnola, PCV Uganda

Sarah Genelle Castagnola, PCV Uganda

Today marked my one year anniversary in Uganda. Everyone says in Peace Corps the days are long but the two years go by quickly. So far, I couldn’t agree more. Out of our group of 28, we are now 23 in country. I can say we all have had really high highs and really low lows. When I look back now on the 4 months I spent in Ghana or the 2 months I spent in Aceh, Indonesia or Nicaragua I am shocked I accomplished anything. I feel like I am only now starting to really understand the culture I am immersed in and the people who I spend everyday with.

Today I traveled to Kasese town (Yes 3G internet!) to do a radio show for World Malaria Day. Malaria has a huge emotional and economic impact in Uganda. It is the leading cause of death in Uganda. In fact 90% of all malaria cases are in sub-saharan Africa. In a recent survey published, an estimated 25% of Ugandan’s income is spent on treatment for malaria. Where I live the number one thing to prevent malaria is to simply sleep under a mosquito net. I religiously tuck my net around my bed every night. This is admittedly to keep not only mosquitoes but also the mice and other insects that roam freely around my house out of my bed.

Human behavior is difficult to change. The government distributes nets for free throughout Uganda however most people use them for fishing and chicken coops. The most you can do is to provide information, incentivize healthy actions and try to stage interventions to improve the usage rate of nets. I wrote and received a small grant to put on a radio show to talk more about net usage, treatment options and to give people the opportunity to call in and ask questions. Lady J of Kasese’s Radio Messiah hosted me, a doctor from Kagando (whose mother is one of our farmers), Manasi, a radio host who works closely with Bukonzo Joint and Will, another Peace Corps volunteer in Kasese.

The doctor talked about malaria in Uganda explaining what it is, prevention, transmission and treatment. We also had people call in and ask questions. Questions ranged from, “What malaria drugs are okay to take while pregnant?” to “I heard that if you sleep under a net it makes you crazy and you start speaking incoherently and have nightmares, is this true?”

As with most projects I do here, there were a lot of challenges which all worked out in the end. The doctor, who was our main presenter, arrived 20 minutes late due to the CDC visiting his hospital on the same day. We also had a miscommunication about the price of the show. It turns out the show was 9,000 ugx a minute so the amount I received from the malaria grant only afforded one hour not two. Also, during our malaria trivia game both MTN and Orange phone networks went out and Warid was going on and off. Despite the doctor arriving late, he did an excellent job and was completely prepared for the show. I was able to negotiate two hours, though we only paid for one, with some charm. We also decided that the malaria trivia would be asked on the radio the next 5 days 3 times a day giving listeners the opportunity to call in and to win the roasted coffee Bukonzo Joint had donated as prizes. Overall, all these issues worked out to our benefit. Malaria information will now be repeated and disbursed throughout the week and Bukonzo Joint will continue to get free advertising for 5 days instead of 1. We wrapped up the show by 7pm. An estimated 500,000 listeners were tuned in tonight. I am hoping a few more start sleeping under their net.

Read more about Sarah’s experience on her blog!