Uganda is the world’s youngest country in the world with an average age of barely over 15 and with 77% of population below the age of 30. Uganda’s fertility rate stands at 6.7, meaning that the average woman has nearly 7 children in her lifetime. Because of malaria’s extreme effect on pregnant mothers and children (particularly children under 5), as well as the inherent number of each within Uganda, the need is great. Seeing this, one of Uganda’s Health Volunteers mobilized and led a session with her partner organization on prevention and treatment.
Alana Sutter is a Health Volunteer who arrived in May of last year. She is a Registered Nurse who worked at the VA Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin for 6 years. She also has experience in public health work in Haiti with Health Ministries for Haiti. She is from Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin and graduated from Edgewood College, in Madison.
Alana teamed up with the Childcare and Youth Empowerment Foundation. The foundation was created by Dr. Kkonde, Mukono District’s Assistant District Health Official and HIV focal person. The foundation offer support to vulnerable young mothers. Currently, over 80 mothers under the age of 18 are receiving services. Many of these women are victims of rape or sexual assault, abandonment by the father, or incest. The group helps the women through offering skill-based learning as well as health-specific knowledge to improve upon healthy living.
In April, Alana and Dr. Kkonde’s offered a session aimed at increasing knowledge of malaria prevention and treatment. 38 mothers (along with 32 babies in tow) attended the session. The session was conducted in two languages, with Alana & Dr.Kkonde speaking in both English and Luganda to ladies present. The session went for 2 and-a-half hours, including a 15 minute break in the middle.
Because the mothers seemed to know a lot about malaria already, Alana focused her message on motivating mothers to make the changes they all know they needed to be more healthy and to avoid malaria for themselves and their children. She discussed and broke down the price differences, both direct and indirect, that come out of malaria and then compared it against the cost of a net. “If you think a net is expensive,” said Sutter, “consider first how expensive it is NOT to buy one.”
Alana noted that it was Sulphadoxine-Pyrimethamine (SP), which is used in doses for prevention of malaria in pregnancy, that was least known about. Alana notes that “most people are rarely educated on what medications they are taking and their own health status.” With appropriate SP dosage amongst pregnant ladies in Uganda at only 26% nationwide, this is a significant barrier that need to be addressed nationally. There also still seems to be lack of understanding about SP at the Service Provider level as well; several women in the group reported being given 6 pills (instead of 3, the appropriate amount) to take at once, instead of taking them at least one month apart.
One big question that came up many times was where they would be able to get nets locally. With over 37% of Uganda living below the poverty line, the cost of a LLIN in the village could cost the equivalent of half a month’s salary. Uganda is hopeful of the largest to-scale universal net distribution in the world to start later this year, culminating with 21.5 million nets to be distributed to 1 in every 2 people of the 35.4 million currently residing in the country. Until then, it will require a large effort on the part of the families to keep their kids safe.
In the interest of sharing ideas, Alana has worked hard to produce a document which highlights the points made and goes over how to have a similar conversation. Whether you are in Eastern Uganda or Northern Ghana, this information could be helpful to you. Please check it out!
Alana is now particularly interested in working in the future with health providers to apply the proper dosage of SP in pregnancy as well as other important malaria prevention measures. A nurse herself, Alana notes that “[health providers] are a huge influence on people’s perceptions of malaria. If they are teaching wrong information, treating incorrectly, etc. why wouldn’t people have the wrong ideas about it?”
Peace Corps Uganda is proud to have yet another Volunteer step up to take on the challenge of malaria in Uganda. Anyone interested in talking to Alana directly about her project can contact her at [email protected].