Stomping Out Malaria in Ethiopia
By Chuck Adams (Bonga 2011-)
HIS FACE LOOKED ASHEN, his clothes rumpled, the blanket over his shoulders a mystery in this bright, sweltering sun. Back from the hospital, my neighbor and colleague, Ketema, explained his ailment as only a biology instructor could: “Plasmodium falciparum.” I gasped. “And typhus.” I gasped, again, and gulped, thankful that I had been taking my malaria prophylactics on a regular basis.
In Ethiopia, malaria is a strange bedfellow. Some say it doesn’t exist over 1,800 meters above sea level, others say the “safe zone” doesn’t start until 2,200 meters. While Ethiopia is a mountainous country, with highlands plateau stretching across the most populated sections, it is still highly susceptible to outbreaks of malaria. Every peak has its valley, and it’s in those valleys where malaria lurks. My neighbor found this out the hard way.
I asked Ketema if he had a bed net. “Yes.” I asked if he uses it. He just shook his head. “I have, but I’m lazy.” We both concluded that he took the risk and suffered the consequences. But he was a lucky one. Most do not have such easy access to Coartem, the medicine that can quickly alleviate malaria symptoms. To this day, malaria is a leading cause of preventable death in Ethiopia. This is where Peace Corps Volunteers come in to play.
In 2011, PCVs in Senegal launched a continent-wide Peace Corps initiative named “Stomping Out Malaria in Africa,” a project that hopes to engage PCVs in Africa working in all types of programs in the battle against malaria. One component of the project that many PCVs have taken on is Blog About Malaria Month (BAMM). During the month of April, PCVs from target countries compete to come up with the most blog entries related to malaria as possible. This year Ethiopia tied Guinea for 3rd place with 24 blog entries. Zambia was 2nd with 32 entries. Senegal won with 37 entries.
PCVs in Ethiopia wrote about a wide variety of topics related to malaria. Julia Duch (Dilla 2012-) wrote about her malaria-themed mural; Forrest Copeland (Aby Ady 2012-) described his mefloquine-induced dreams; Morgan Davison (Aykel, 2012-) spoke to her soccer team about malaria before a practice ; Sarah Crozier (Gonder 2012-) stuck her foot outside her bednet for a night and reported on the mosquito bites she received in a single evening; Dan Allen (Gonder/Addis 2010-13) wrote about his attempts to give insightful presentations on malaria at Pre-Service Training and In-Service Training. These are just a select few of the many entries PC/Ethiopia submitted.
I decided to create a podcast for my BAMM entries. I interviewed my neighbor on his bout of malaria, in which he thoroughly convinces me he is an expert on malaria (and yet still doesn’t use a bednet), as well as interviewing my site-mate Laura Harrington (Bonga 2011-), who has led a World Malaria Day march in Bonga for the past two years. The march starts at the top of the hill, near where she lives (above the malaria zone), and winds its way through town, down the hill to the valley of the teachers college where I work (in the malaria zone). Along the way, students wave banners, chant songs, and hold a bed net aloft all in the spirit of raising awareness on this silent killer. For my part of the collaboration, I secured a large meeting hall at the teachers college where participants can rest, drink water and tea, eat a biscuit, and hear a short presentation on malaria prevention from a local health official. The day is capped off with voting on the best banner in several categories.
These are just small steps — the only steps PCVs can really take — but they are fun and creative ways to battle a public health issue that continues to kill over 70,000 people in Ethiopia each year, mostly children. If even one life is preserved, our efforts will be worth it.
To learn more about “Stomping Out Malaria in Africa,” and to read all of the Ethiopia PCV “Blog About Malaria Month” entries on malaria, go to StompOutMalaria.org.