I was talking to Yama, our Safety and Security agent in Peace Corps Guinea, and she was asking me about my site, as always, in her thoughtful and genuinely interested fashion. My first reaction is to gush about Banko and how much I enjoy my host family, but then I remembered there is a problem at site. Everything is not perfect, and at the moment there is something devastating my family. This issue is not unique to us, either. My host brother Bengaly (3 years old) has spent the past week in the hospital with severe malaria. He has been undergoing treatment and trying to get his strength back. Hopefully, he will be fine, and he is very lucky to have a family who has the means to transport him to the hospital 50km away and pay for his treatment. Many of the other children in Banko do not have the same possibilities when they fall ill.
100% of Guinea’s population is at high risk for developing malaria and among them, children under 5 and pregnant women are most at risk. Quite often, malaria is misdiagnosed/underdiagnosed because of the generality of its symptoms and lack of diagnostic equipment (microscopes or quick tests). This leads to a lot of self-diagnosing and a lag between experiencing symptoms and deciding to go to the health center. Because prevention is not yet universally practiced, malaria accounts for about 14% of deaths here. The silver-lining is that prevention is easy and effective. The main message of all of my malaria educating- from lessons in my classes to chats with the old wise men of the village- is to sleep under a mosquito net every night, without exception. At the end of this month there will be a country wide mosquito net distribution (funded by Child Fund in my region) and it will be an unparalleled attempt to achieve universal use of mosquito nets. It is ideal that every person sleep under a net, but even if only 80% of the population consistently uses a net, that would reduce malaria incidence by 50% and mortality by 70%. The nets are impregnated with insecticide so their use lowers the mosquito population while simultaneously shrinking the pool of infected individuals that propagate transmission. Bottom line: using a mosquito net is the most plausible and effective malaria prevention technique for the people of Guinea.
I am very excited about lowering the malaria incidence in my community and stomping out malaria in Guinea as a whole. I just took on the position of malaria coordinator for the volunteers in my region, so I am now officially charged with bugging them weekly about doing malaria work. That is not to say that my fellow volunteers need bugging- there is an inspiring amount of motivation to do malaria projects. I really believe that we have a chance to do something big here- eradicating malaria in Africa is not unrealistic. Malaria is 100% preventable, and I believe in our volunteers and community members to prove it.