Spreading Awareness about Malaria

Malaria is one of the biggest health challenges here in Liberia. It’s the leading cause of death in Liberia and young children and pregnant women are at an even higher risk than the rest of the population. (Some statistics are in this post that I shared last year.) But malaria is preventable! So we’re working to spread the word about the importance of sleeping under mosquito nets and getting testing and treatment when you’re sick.

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Back in March, volunteers from Peace Corps Liberia’s malaria committee put on a workshop about how to spread awareness about the disease. We were encouraged to invite both an education and a health counterpart from our communities, so I attended along with the junior high science teacher from my school, Chris, and my good friend from my neighborhood, Patience, who is studying at university to be a nurse.

We spent the first two days of the training learning about malaria: We talked about how you can get malaria – from a parasite transmitted to humans when bitten by a female mosquito carrying the parasite. We learned about how to prevent malaria (sleep under a mosquito net!) and what to do if you think you have it (get tested at the local clinic). We learned about the increased risks for pregnant women (or in Liberian English “big belly women”). Then we discussed techniques to raise awareness in our own communities and were given tools to teach about malaria.

On the last day, we got the chance to practice teaching at a nearby school! We had a few hours to prepare the evening before and then taught four different lessons to a 7th grade class. Using interactive posters, we taught about the biological transmission of malaria, the importance of testing and treating, “Big Belly Ma” malaria and the economic impact of getting malaria. It was great working with Chris and Patience! They jumped right in and were more than willing to put in the practice time to make sure we were prepared.

Their enthusiasm didn’t stop when the workshop finished either! Since going back to our community, Patience has been having conversations with people all around the neighborhood, emphasizing the importance of sleeping under a bed net. Plus Chris and I have already held a few sessions with the junior high health club at our school. We’re hoping to also do some lessons with another school in our community as well before the end of the school year.

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Malaria Session with my school’s health club

In partnering with Patience and Chris, I’ve seen the importance of finding passionate counterparts. On top of their enthusiasm, as local members of the community, they have a bigger network of people to reach out to and know how to communicate information in a way that is most effective in Liberia. Plus people are often less likely to listen when the message comes from me as an outsider, so they bring credibility to our work. I feel so lucky to be able to work with them!

World Malaria Day & Birthday Celebrations in Liberia

Last Wednesday was my birthday! Here’s how I celebrated here in Liberia…

As my actual birthday was a Wednesday, it was a regular school day so I had school in the morning. But not only was it my birthday, April 25th is also World Malaria Day. Here’s a few facts about malaria: Globally there were over 200 million cases of malaria in 2015 and 438 thousand deaths. 70% of malaria deaths are in children–every two minutes a child dies of malaria. Here in Liberia, malaria is the leading cause of death so it’s especially relevant and what better day to talk about it than World Malaria Day. So instead of having regular math lessons in class, I spent my time with my 10th and 11th graders talking about malaria and playing a game to learn about how to prevent malaria.

The game was called “Race to Prevent Malaria” and I split the class into two teams who were racing up their ladder I’d drawn on the chalkboard. The teams took turns drawing cards that had an action on it that determined if they got to move forward. Teams climbed up the ladder if they drew a positive prevention action like “you and your family slept under a mosquito net last night” and “you referred a big belly woman to the clinic” (“Big belly” or pregnant women are at a greater risk for malaria. If a pregnant woman were to get malaria, it could lead to placental malaria which can block nutrients getting to the baby and cause severe complications during childbirth. Pregnant women can receive a free mosquito net and prophylaxis, a preventative treatment, by visiting their local clinic).

However, they had to move back down if their action was negative like “you thought you had malaria but didn’t go to the clinic to get tested” or “you have a hole in your mosquito net that you still have not fixed.” I also included a few cards addressing common beliefs that actually have nothing to do with malaria either way. For instance, avoiding plums (Liberian English for mangoes) because you saw mosquitoes on them doesn’t matter–yes, you get malaria from mosquitoes but only by them biting you and transmitting the parasite into your blood stream, not from eating plums! For these cards, teams didn’t move either way.

The game seemed to be a hit–the students got very competitive and enjoyed it, and hopefully also learned something too!

Continuing my birthday, after school, my friend Patience made me Liberian spaghetti for lunch and one of my students came over to play scrabble on the porch. He recently got a scrabble game complete with a scrabble dictionary but didn’t know how to play. So I taught him and we’ve been playing during recess and after school every now and then too!

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The only picture I managed to take on our walk… we stopped to buy cold water from one of my students and he had it in this Ohio State cooler! I tried to explain to him that Ohio State is my team just like his football team is Chelsea!

To finish my birthday, later in the afternoon, I went for a walk (or as they say here a “walk about”) to a neighboring community with my friend Patience. My school is the only high school in the area so even though it’s a pretty long walk, many of my students live in this community. I’d seen it from the car driving past or just stopping briefly but it was nice to spend more time there and see where some of my students live–and get a reminder of how far they walk to school!

Over the weekend, I got to celebrate with some Peace Corps friends in Monrovia! It was another volunteer’s birthday a couple days after mine so a group of us met in town for the weekend. We got to have some of the foods we can’t get at site, like pizza and ice cream! And on Saturday we took a day trip to Libassa, a resort not far from the city, and spent the day relaxing in their many pools and floating around their lazy river!

And I can’t forget everyone else that I didn’t get to celebrate with in person… Thank you to my family for my birthday package which was waiting for me at the office when I arrived in town! And to all my friends both here in Liberia and back at home for the birthday wishes!

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