In Senegal, PATH helps mobilize champions to end malaria

December 28, 2016 by Jolayne Houtz

Driving malaria out of Senegal for good will require a strong commitment from individuals as well as national leaders.

Yacine Seck fights malaria in Senegal / Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki

Yacine Seck of Dalifort, Senegal, knows from her own tragic experience that you can never let your guard down, even for one night. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Sometimes at night, Yacine Seck slips out of bed to check on her sleeping children. Quietly, she moves around their house near Dakar, Senegal, making sure each one is tucked safely under a bednet to protect against malaria.

Sometimes at night, her 13-year-old son, Ibra, slips out of bed after his mother has fallen asleep to hang out with his friends and walk around their neighborhood. During a recent nocturnal stroll, Ibra was bitten by a malaria-carrying mosquito.

And that’s how Yacine nearly lost a second child to malaria.

“I kept crying because I was very worried at the hospital,” says Yacine, whose son was hospitalized for three days. “I told the medical doctors I have lost already one daughter because of malaria. I do not want this to happen again.”

Going after malaria on all fronts

Malaria is a wily foe. No single tool has proven to be enough to keep up with this fast-adapting parasite.

So PATH pursues an array of solutions. We bring innovation in strategies and tools, partnerships and financing to the more than 25 countries where we work to control and eliminate malaria.

Coumba Diouf leads community training on malaria Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki

Coumba Diouf, a PATH-trained “community champion,” holds a meeting with a group of neighbors to discuss ways to prevent malaria. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Each country has unique needs. In places like Senegal, where malaria is already on the run, the battle to eliminate the disease will be won or lost at the village, neighborhood, and community levels.

In Senegal, that means going door-to-door—literally. Working alongside the Ministry of Health and other partners, we have created a network of PATH-trained “community champions” who enlist their neighbors in the fight.

These volunteers educate their communities about how to use bednets and other prevention methods, recognize the symptoms of malaria, and access diagnosis and treatment.

They are the backbone of the “Zero Palu! Je m’engage!” campaign (“Zero malaria starts with me!”), a national movement to support the fight for a malaria-free Senegal.

The Zero Malaria campaign also gets the word out through other creative communications that include music videos, TV programs, celebrity spokespeople, and even movie screenings in local communities using bike-powered projection equipment.

The campaign—and PATH—are supporting the goal of getting 80 percent of Senegal’s 15 million residents to adopt behaviors that promote malaria prevention and control.

The nation’s ultimate goal: to reduce malaria incidence and deaths by at least 75 percent by 2020.

A mother’s nightmare

Just weeks after Ibra—Yacine’s night-owl teenager—nearly died from malaria, Yacine’s family hosted a neighborhood gathering where community champion Coumba Diouf explained how to properly use and care for bednets and the importance of draining standing water where mosquitoes like to breed.

To save Ibra’s life, Yacine spent about US$75 for medicines and transport—everything she had saved for months to celebrate Tabaski, an important national religious holiday also known as Eid al-Adha, by selling perfume and used clothing from a table in front of her house.

It was worth every penny to avoid losing Ibra the same way she had lost her 15-year-old daughter, Maguette, years before.

What would it be like for Yacine and her family to live in a malaria-free world?

“It would be wonderful because had it not been for malaria, my daughter would be still alive,” Yacine says. “She was very beautiful and very smart at school. She died abruptly, which surprised me a lot. . .Malaria damages a lot of things in a society, and people underestimate it.”

“Malaria damages a lot of things in a society, and people underestimate it.”
— Yacine Seck

Child malaria deaths cut in half

Some parts of Senegal, including the area where Yacine lives, are tantalizingly close to malaria elimination. Northern Senegal is almost malaria-free, though southern regions experience higher incidence rates.

Malaria used to be the most critical health issue in this area, says Dr. Cheikh Senghor, chief medical officer of the local health district, which serves about 350,000 people. Today, children’s pneumonia tops the list.

Mbène Diagne, the nurse who runs the health post in Yacine’s neighborhood, says she sees about 10 cases of malaria each month during the height of the rainy season—down from as many as 300 cases a month a few years ago.

Nationally, Senegal has cut child deaths by more than 50 percent over the past decade and reduced malaria transmission tenfold, thanks to strong national leadership and the implementation of new tools and approaches, many supported by PATH, such as a rapid data reporting platform.

We also partner with the National Malaria Control Program and the President's Malaria Initiative to scale up systematic investigation of malaria cases using a mobile phone–based information system that generates timely, geographically precise data to guide elimination efforts.

Free bednets distributed by the government, indoor spraying, free diagnosis and treatment, education campaigns—together, these tools are saving lives in Senegal.

Constant vigilance

Even with the dramatic progress Senegal has made against malaria, you only have to walk a few blocks from Yacine’s house to see why this stubborn disease remains so hard to stamp out.

During the rainy season, ground water seeps up to street level in this low-lying neighborhood. In one home, the family (ten people and three goats) was forced to move to the second floor because the water was knee-deep in the living room.

Mosquitoes come to lay their eggs around the stagnant water, and the cycle continues, with malaria ready to come back stronger than ever.

Community vigilance, government commitment, financial resources, and cross-sector support remain critical to the fight and to maintaining Senegal’s hard-won progress. PATH’s commitment to a malaria-free world means we will stand with Senegal until the very last malaria parasite is gone.