Mwea Mission Hospital: Helping Themselves
5 November 2009
By Jessica Uno
Jessica Uno is winner of the World Briefing: Telling the Malaria Contest co-sponsored by Novartis Pharmaceutical Corporation and Malaria No More. Her winning essay earned her a trip to cover the MIM Pan-African Malaria Conference in Kenya and report back on the latest in the global effort to end malaria.
Once we arrived at Mwea, we met Dr. John, director of the Vector Control Center at Mwea Mission Hospital. The outdoor hospital is four hours away from the next hospital and served a large patient body. The large rice paddies in that region force hospitals to be far apart. Dr. John and Jane told us about how they had reduced malaria occurrences to almost 0% in the area surrounding the hospital, through a combination of prevention and treatment measures. They pushed large campaigns to encourage the community to consistently sleep under pesticide-treated bed nets and made sure powerful ACTs were readily available for those with malaria. A large problem in applying our existing tools for fighting malaria is patient compliance. You can give a bed net to family, but if left alone, families will often misuse them or use them inconsistently. The same goes true with ACTs – often patients feel better after a day or two of treatment and stop taking their medicines. Creative strategies are necessary to motivate consistent net usage and compliance with malaria treatments. One of Mwea’s strategies includes portraying nets as “fashionable,” by having respected community leaders show friends and families that the frequently using nets are critical to avoiding mosquitoes. Malaria is preventable and not a fact of life, using the slogan “mosquito out, we are in the net together!” Rather than imposing the nets on the community, Mwea Mission Hospital was successful in encouraging net use in culturally sensitive, sustainable ways that actively involved community members.
After this discussion, we were given a tour of the laboratory. Two of the technicians demonstrated how they test patients for malaria parasites by examining their blood samples under the microscope. Sitting in the middle of a table in the room was a box containing dozens of tiny Anopheles mosquitoes that the laboratory used to study Plasmodium and to train community members in identifying and diagnosing malaria parasites in blood samples. I had never seen an infected Anopheles mosquito, and I was simultaneously repulsed and awed. Then, to my shock, one of the technicians actually mouth-pipetted a few mosquitoes into a tube for us to see. He showed us how to identify the male and female mosquitoes (the males are smaller and have little beards on their mouthparts). There was also a small tub of water where Anopheles larva wriggled and waited to turn into winged adults. Alongside the larva, I noticed a snail floating in the water. Turns out they also study the snail-borne parasiteSchistosomiasis, another danger to workers in the rice paddies. I got really excited because the laboratory where I study malaria at UC San Francisco also focuses on Schistosomiasis. Except when they keep live specimens of the parasite, they are locked in a biohazard room and everyone always wears gloves before going anywhere near the infected snails. I was very impressed at the operations of this Mwea laboratory because they accomplished so much training, diagnosis, and research with a tiny fraction of the equipment I’m used to having in UC San Francisco’s laboratories.
We also talked to Jane about the health education projects she leads at local schools. She discussed some effective strategies for motivating both children and their parents to follow good anti-malarial habits and talked about how their programs encouraged children to take an active role in malaria prevention. This is part of a larger effort to inspire the next generation to take on malaria rather than accept the disease as unstoppable. Children produced beautiful art and poetry through various contests themed around malaria at the schools, some of which had grown into national contests bringing together children from different regions. Malaria education also gave children an opportunity to learn about future career options, like becoming lab technicians or doctors. Jane exemplified how communities are using malaria to create opportunities for growth, unity, and action independent of foreign aid.
Jessica’s trip to Kenya was supported by Novartis Pharmaceutical Corporation and Malaria No More.
This blog entry was originally posted on Malaria No More’s Malaria Policy Center, wh ich can be accessed here: http://malarianomore.org/blog/?p=2000.