Royal Society of Medicine: Fighting Malaria in Sierra Leone
Josephine Muhairwe is a Ugandan medical doctor. In August 2011 she was selected by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to lead their multi-faith health messaging programme: Faiths Act in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone has a population of six million people and just 102 medics but in every village there are churches and mosques. Faiths Act in Sierra Leone is utilising these existing faith networks and infrastructures to turn bed net ownership into bed net usage. Faith communities are trained to visit households and disseminate simple but vital health messages on malaria prevention.
Every medical doctor who has trained and worked in a malaria endemic country knows the importance of a malaria blood test for every patient. It is staggering that despite being treatable and preventable the disease still claims the lives of up to 750, 000 people, mainly women and children, each year.
Unfortunately, some situations are beyond the doctor's control. Limited basic sundries like examination gloves were common place when I was working as a junior doctor in a busy national referral hospital in Uganda. When a child is presented to you with late stages of malaria; severely anemic and in shock and all you have is an Adult size IV canula and an empty blood bank your hands are tied, there is little you can do to save the child. Losing three beautiful children from malaria within minutes is something that changed my life completely.
Seven years on and I am now working with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation's programme on malaria prevention: Faiths Act in Sierra Leone. No one day is the same. Every day, I meet, talk and visit the different faith leaders we train to be advocates of malaria prevention in their local communities. I see, first hand, the local people learning how to take control of their own health and protect themselves against this devastating disease.
With the key messages of malaria prevention preached through sermons, khutbas, community activities and local media, people are yielding and starting to take their health seriously. Encouraged by the physical presence of our young dynamic volunteers who spend hours visiting families – educating and teaching them how to use insecticide treated bed nets properly - people are now using the nets for their intended purpose rather than for fishing or washing dishes. They are cleaning their surroundings to clear mosquito breeding sites and seeking medical treatment as soon as they recognize the symptoms of malaria. And pregnant women are attending antenatal clinics to receive treatment to prevent themselves and the unborn child against malaria.