Bamoussa, my almost 9-months pregnant host sister, told me that she was feeling sick last week. She was experiencing all the typical symptoms of malaria (fever, headache, fatigue). She first told me she felt ill in the morning, and I told her she needed to go to the health post to get tested for malaria. Instead, she lied in bed all day and slept. Throughout the afternoon, I kept asking her if she had gone to the health post yet, and she kept saying she was going to go later. I talked to her husband and told him that she needed to go, but he said she would go later. I was very concerned since she is pregnant, and malaria can cause anemia and potentially early labor. That night, I again asked her if she had gone to the health post, and she said she would go the next day. Fily finally revealed to me that Bamoussa is afraid of needles and that she was terrified to go to the health post. At 8pm, I finally went into her room and told her I was going to take her to the health post. After hearing my concern, she agreed to go with me, and I waited outside the exam room as she got tested. Sure enough, she tested positive for malaria and needed to get a shot. Sarr called me in, and I held her hand while she got the shot. Money was an issue, and as I later found out, since I was the one who took her to the health post, I was expected to pay the medical bill. She got an IV treatment every morning and night for a few days, and now she is better! I was hesitant about paying her medical expenses since I don’t want the entire village coming to me with their medical bills. Since she is my sister and I forced her to go to the health post, I agreed to pay the bill, but in the future, I cannot pay everyone’s medical bills. If I paid for everyone, it would first of all eat up all of my monthly living allowance, and second of all, it would create an unsustainable dependency on me. In the decisions I make, I need to be thinking about how things will continue after I leave in 2 years.
The experience of making sure Bamoussa got tested and got treatment made me realize that this is why I’m here. Sometimes I wonder if I’m making any difference here, but in this situation it felt good to feel useful.
The morning after I took Bamoussa to the health post, I found out my pregnant sister-in-law, Sunkharou, also tested positive for malaria. After Bamoussa went in, Sunkharou decided to go get tested as well since she had been feeling sick for a couple days. She also received the IV treatment and is ok now.
I’ve started my baseline survey, and I’m learning a lot about the community. One of the questions I ask each family is “how many family members have had malaria in the past year?” A common response is that the whole family has had it. Sometimes they just point to various children who currently have it. Malaria is rampant in my village, and if left untreated, it can be very dangerous. It’s frustrating for me as a health volunteer, because some of the people who get malaria are doing everything they can to protect themselves and they still get it. You can use neem lotion and sleep under a mosquito net and still get malaria. Mosquitoes are everywhere here. At night, I wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt, closed toe shoes, and mosquito repellant, and I still get bit. If I wasn’t taking antimalarial drugs, I probably would have malaria. It seems unfair, and it’s hard to know how to help improve the situation. Right now, all I can do is encourage people to sleep under nets and use neem lotion at night.
Peace Corps Senegal has joined 24 other malaria endemic countries on a Stomp Out Malaria campaign. The mission of the campaign is:
"The Stomping Out Malaria in Africa initiative aims to have universal bed net coverage and malaria prevention and treatment education programs in every malaria-impacted Peace Corps community in the initial target countries by 2013.
In addition, Peace Corps will work with partners to achieve two Millennium Challenge goals: a 50% or more reduction in deaths caused by malaria globally by 2015 and a substantial reduction in deaths caused by malaria in all 25 African target countries by 2020.”
I’ve linked the Stomp Out Malaria Facebook page to mine, so check out the campaign! I’ll be participating in a bed net distribution next month and will receive training in malaria prevention techniques.
I’m uncovering problems that I didn’t even realize existed by doing my baseline survey. I found out that the majority of people I’ve interviewed so far do not have latrines, which means they are most likely going to the bathroom in the bush. Flies land on the poop in the bush and then land on the rice that we’re all eating, and that’s how everyone gets diarrhea. Since we have 2 latrines on the chief’s compound, I assumed most families had them. The ideal is to have 1 latrine for every 10 people, and so far, I haven’t interviewed any family who met this standard. This is a problem.
When I look at everything that I’d like to see changed, it gets overwhelming. I need to tackle these problems little by little. I’m here for 2 years, so I have time. Right now I’m focusing on finishing my baseline survey and analyzing the results. Nothing is going to change overnight, but by one on one interaction with people, I can help create small behavior changes. These small victories, like my experience with Bamoussa, make this bleak situation look much more hopeful.