PATH Malaria Perspectives with Aminatou Sar

May 31, 2023 by PATH

Aminatou Sar, West Africa Hub and Senegal Country Program Director at PATH, has dedicated her career to promoting equal rights.

Aminatou Sar has served as West Africa Hub and Senegal Country Program Director at PATH since 2017. Photo: PATH.

Aminatou Sar has served as West Africa Hub and Senegal Country Program Director at PATH since 2017. Photo: PATH.

Aminatou started her career as a journalist and for more than a decade, she worked in the field of child rights and human rights across Africa. For the past six years, Aminatou has been PATH’s West Africa Hub and Senegal Country Program Director, overseeing all projects and activities, which span a wide range of global health areas—including malaria—across the region.

In this edition of PATH Malaria Perspectives, Aminatou shares insights into her career, the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to malaria elimination efforts, and a reminder to always stay curious.

Where did your journey at PATH begin?

I joined PATH in 2016, first serving as a regional advisor for the Reproductive Health Supply Coalition in francophone Africa. I immediately felt excited about the opportunity to translate my rights-based work into concrete actions. At the time, this meant increasing access to quality contraceptive options for women. This was a fantastic opportunity, and it was closely related to My Body My Rights, a previous campaign I had worked on at Amnesty International.

While it’s important to invest in rights advocacy, it’s also important to ensure we have tangible resources to implement the policies we are advocating for. I was excited to transition from advocacy to being able to deliver concrete solutions that meet people’s needs. This includes, for example, increasing product availability, preventing stockouts, and providing more options to women and girls with regards to their sexual and reproductive rights.

Over time, I started looking for an opportunity to broaden my experience. When PATH’s previous Senegal Country Director left in 2017, he encouraged me to apply for the position. While working at a regional level across francophone Africa, I had always been curious about the work PATH was doing specifically in Senegal and had been keeping up to date with the organization’s activities in the country, so I applied. My curiosity equipped me well, and I am now leading the program.

Q: What is PATH doing to eliminate and eventually eradicate malaria in Senegal?

Our team’s malaria work is some of the most vibrant and dynamic in our portfolio. We have many different, ongoing projects and regularly collaborate with a range of individuals, organizations, and sectors, such as the national malaria control program, multilateral organizations, private-sector companies, and community-based grassroots groups.

Our work is focused on addressing the increasing burden of malaria in certain areas of the country. We’ve opened a new office in Tambacounda, an area with a high malaria burden, and are hoping to expand to Kedougou. We plan our activities based on the greatest needs and challenges communities in Senegal are facing.

For example, we are currently running the Community Champions for Malaria Elimination project in Tambacounda, through which we created a network of PATH-trained “community champions” who go door to door to enlist their neighbors in the fight against malaria. These champions educate their communities on how to use mosquito nets, advise on cleaning techniques and how to minimize the replication of mosquitoes, and increase general awareness about the disease. As the project continues to expand, so does the number of community members who are involved in spreading these messages.

Additionally, we are leading a USAID-funded Urban Health project, that uses an integrated approach to addressing health issues, including malaria in under-resourced, urban settings in Dakar. This project brings together public, private, and community sector stakeholders.

Q: How does Senegal work with its neighbors in the region on malaria elimination efforts?

Senegal has many neighbors, including Mali, Mauritania, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and The Gambia. It is important for all of us to coordinate efforts and ensure regional cross-border collaboration and alignment—after all, mosquitoes do not respect borders.

We have a few projects that utilize our proximity to one another. For example, last year, we worked closely with the national malaria control programs and ministries of health in The Gambia and Senegal to conduct mosquito net distribution in both countries, through the MACEPA project.

It’s vital that we communicate with our neighboring countries since we experience so many common challenges and become stronger when we overcome them together.

Q: What motivates and inspires you in your daily work?

Every single life we save. We are doing lifesaving work, and the interventions we work on are my greatest motivators. We regularly commission evaluations to assess our programs, and the results are encouraging. For example, in one of our latest evaluations, we received feedback that our efforts have allowed families to save money that they can use to improve their quality of life.

The second great motivator for me is the surprise of learning something new each day. For someone who did not start with a public health background, I learn a lot from the team and the people I work with.

Our malaria team is incredibly dynamic and innovative. For example, one project the team is working on is in partnership with the Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) here in Senegal. The project leverages infrastructure developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and aims to support the country’s ability to monitor and track several diseases, including malaria, and potential epidemics at the same time. In doing so, we can be better prepared to move quickly and allocate health care resources where they are most needed.

Every day, I come across new ways of working, new approaches, and new innovations. This dynamism is hugely motivating.

Finally, my personal experience with malaria motivates me. The last time I had malaria was in 1991. I remember that because it is such a painful disease. Each day that I work in this field, I remember my own experience and how far we’ve come since then.

Malaria used to be quite common, but thanks to all the partners working in the malaria space, we have done a great job at reducing cases and deaths globally. There is, however, still a long way to go. I believe malaria is not just a disease we need to control; it’s a disease we need to eliminate.

Q: Looking to the future, where should we be investing in the fight against malaria?

I believe we should prioritize a multicountry regional approach. Collectively, we can better address some of the greatest challenges. Instead of spreading resources around, we should consider bringing them all together and approach malaria elimination holistically.

We also need to make malaria treatments more accessible and invest in primary health care, which will help relieve pressure on our health systems. Being able to go to a community-based health facility for treatment would improve access to care for more people. Currently, access to treatment depends on many factors, including where someone lives, and this shouldn’t be the case.

On that note, and with my background as a human rights activist, I would also highlight that we all need to have equal rights. This means that everyone should receive the same level of care and treatment, regardless of who you are and where you are in this world.