Engaging communities in the fight to end malaria

April 23, 2024 by PATH

PATH Malaria works hard to ensure that the communities most affected by malaria remain at the heart of the work. Read how PATH implemented this approach in Senegal and Zambia.

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PATH ATSB Morphological Identification and Data Entry Officer, Patricia Mambo, answering questions about entomology at a community dissemination meeting. Photo: PATH/Mundia H Masuzyo.

Community engagement is an integral component of advancing health equity through respectful partnerships—one of PATH’s four change strategies.

For PATH Malaria, this means centering the people most affected by malaria and ensuring their concerns and needs are addressed through our work. We do this by working with the community to create, implement, and optimize interventions.

In the stories below, we explore some of the ways PATH Malaria is practicing community engagement throughout the research process—from study implementation to dissemination of results—to maximize the impact of our work to combat malaria.

An inclusive approach to disseminating research findings

In 2023, PATH concluded a large-scale randomized controlled trial of a novel vector control tool—the Attractive Targeted Sugar Bait (ATSB)—designed to attract and kill mosquitoes, including those that transmit malaria.

PATH is part of a partnership led by the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC) to design and implement large-scale field trials of the ATSB in Kenya, Mali, and Zambia with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and UK Aid. PATH was responsible for implementation of the trial in Zambia together with the National Malaria Elimination Centre, Tulane University, and Macha Research Trust.


An ATSB installed on a community member's household structure as part of the randomized control trial in Zambia. Photo: PATH/Erica Orange.

Following the conclusion of the trial, the PATH team conducted over 80 community dissemination activities across Kaoma, Luampa, and Nkeyema districts to share trial results, provide community members and local leaders an opportunity to ask questions about the results, and communicate the next steps for the new tool. The community dissemination activities included a national and subnational briefing, meetings with three district malaria task forces and seven local chiefs, and 70 community dissemination meetings.

Strengthening PATH’s partnership with the community and ensuring transparency in research results were key motivators for conducting these sessions.

“In any research, communities are essential for the success of whatever you are doing and keeping them involved throughout the whole process is important,” shared Frank Ndalama, PATH ATSB Community Engagement Officer.

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PATH ATSB Community Engagement Officer, Frank Ndalama, holding an ATSB at a community dissemination meeting. Photo: Inonge Lyanganga.

To facilitate transparent discussions during the community dissemination meetings, the team invited community members from all age groups and community platforms. Household members that participated in the study, representatives from community-based organizations, teachers, village heads, as well as staff from local health facilities and members of district health teams participated in these meetings.

The ATSB team worked alongside local community health workers (CHWs) to mobilize the community. Dissemination meetings were hosted at a variety of locations, including churches, schools, and local leader homesteads. At each meeting, the PATH team provided a community meal. Some sessions had upwards of 100 participants, demonstrating community members’ keen interest in learning about study results and advancing malaria prevention efforts in their villages.

The team employed best practices learned from community engagement activities deployed during the trial to ensure the study results were as accessible as possible.

“Because there are many languages spoken in [Zambia’s] Western Province, we asked community members which language they are most comfortable with and worked with a translator to share results,” says Mundia H Masuzyo, PATH ATSB Officer. The team worked with local leaders and CHWs to identify a time of day that would allow maximum participation from the community, and they leveraged interactive facilitation methods to foster active engagement throughout.

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PATH ATSB Officer, Mundia H Masuzyo, sharing trial results at a community dissemination meeting. Photo: PATH/Patricia Mambo.

Following these meetings, local leaders expressed that they appreciated the efforts to share the results with the community, and that the dissemination activities reinforced the community’s trust in PATH as well as a sense of inclusion and ownership of the work.

Engaging communities to adapt proven interventions

In Diourbel Region, Senegal, many young children attend religious schools called daaras to learn about the Koran and cultural values. The talibés (students), predominantly boys 5 to 18 years of age, typically study and reside in their classrooms since many of these schools are residential. In the residential daara environment, the consistent use of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) to prevent malaria infection is challenging, which may be contributing to a higher burden of malaria in talibés compared to other children.

A recent pilot study, conducted by Senegal’s National Malaria Program (NMP) and the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) Vectorlink team, found that adapting ITNs to better suit the residential daara environment by sewing multiple ITNs together into ‘meganets’ could lead to higher usage of ITNs and lower incidence of malaria.


Talibés sleeping under a meganet in a daara in Tivaouane, Thiès Region. Photo: Louis Dasylva.

Through the PMI Insights project, PATH is collaborating with the Université Iba Der Thiam de Thiès (UIDT), along with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and the Senegal NMP to conduct a research study evaluating the effect of an intervention package on malaria in daaras in Touba City, Diourbel Region. The intervention package includes meganets, seasonal malaria chemoprevention extended to cover children and youth of all ages, and social and behavior change communication.


A daara in Diourbel Region, Senegal. Photo: PATH/Kim Lindblade.

Prior to the start of study activities in January 2024, UIDT conducted several sensitization meetings in Touba with religious and customary leaders, city authorities, daara leaders and associations, local care providers, and representatives of the district medical officer. These meetings provided an opportunity for community members to meet the study team, gain clarity around study activities, and learn more about how the study team would interact with the community over the course of the project. Holding these meetings fostered a strong partnership with the community and ensured that community questions and concerns were fully addressed.


Study partners (PMI Senegal, Senegal NMP, UCSF, UIDT, PATH) at a planning and co-creation workshop in Dakar, Senegal in June 2023. Photo: PATH/Maia Cullen.

Tailoring research studies to the local context and being responsive to community input are essential for findings to be actionable.

Maia Cullen, PMI Insights Project Manager, said, “We are excited to collaborate with UIDT as they lead this research study. As a Senegalese research institution, UIDT has a deep understanding of the nuances of engaging with Touba communities, which is essential as we implement and evaluate this intervention package.”

This study is 1 of 13 studies under PMI Insights that is led by a research institution based in the country where the evaluation is being conducted. For more information, visit insightsmalaria.org.