Malaria Day events around the world
Malaria Day is important both for those inside malaria infected countries and those outside. “For those outside, it draws attention to the catastrophe that this disease can cause. For those inside the country, it highlights the fact malaria can be controlled and shows people how they can protect themselves from it. It is a day which celebrates the accomplishments which have been made in the fight against malaria so far and points to the work which still needs to be done.” Sierra Leone based Faiths Act Fellows, Aatif Baskanderi told me yesterday.
World Malaria Day marks the global effort to help turn the tide on deaths from malaria. Progress has already been made in this battle: since 2000 global malaria deaths have been reduced by more than 26% (source: Malaria No More UK) But more needs to be done, every death is needless. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation Faiths Act programme has been working with different faith communities in five continents across the world to raise awareness and funds for the cause.
At a policy level, the Faith Foundation is working to highlight the contribution and effectiveness of faith communities in health messaging, specifically malaria prevention. There is some scepticism and myths which surround the contribution of faith communities to health in Africa because there is not a lot of hard data out there to prove their value. We have recently published a report on Africa which details what we know, what we don’t know and what we ought to know. We also have research underway to find out just how effective religious leaders are at giving health messages that people heed. It is a hard job to get people to change their behaviour, to use a bed net at night when it feels hot as the key to preventing malaria prevention.
Since May 2011 we have been working with the Inter Religious Council of Sierra Leone and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to create a public health messaging programme delivered by faith leaders across the country. We firmly believe religious leaders are ideally placed to deliver key health messages to their congregants, not only because of their reach but also because this type of work is deeply rooted in religious teachings . But we have to prove it with solid, objective data and statistics. Each aspect of the work in Sierra Leone is evaluated; every week the number of households who have been taught about malaria prevention is recorded. But more importantly the number who have taken the health messages to heart and are using bed-nets properly to protect their children two months after the first visit is recorded.
At the grassroots of faith communities globally, Faiths Act received applications from supporters from 5 continents volunteering to become “Net Bearers” for the awareness raising campaign “Where’s the Net?” For the past two months a symbolic anti-malaria net has been passing between different faith communities in twenty one countries including Uganda, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, India, Nepal, Australia and the Philippines raising awareness as it travels.
The campaign is being embraced from the bottom up - at a grassroots level but also by faith leaders and government officials. Taban Asega Kamala, a Muslim Health and Development worker from Eastern Uganda visited four faith schools in the Moyo District teaching 1,120 students how to use a bed net properly. This visit had a huge impact as many of the students spoke of the common misuses of bed nets such as a soccer net, wedding veil, sponges for washing and to protect chicks from kites and eagles flying overhead.
World Malaria Day is the key date each of our Faiths Act Fellows who, in interfaith pairs in the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, India and Sierra Leone, have been building up to for the past seven months and art is the hook many of them have used to bring people of different faiths together on the issue.
In Atlanta, interfaith Faiths Act Fellow pair Sana Rahim and Clint Fluker are exhibiting pieces of art made from discarded medical supplies by local artists. The funds raised from this will go towards sending a container of medical supplies to Moyamba Hospital in Sierra Leone. The Faiths Act Fellows in India have organised a fashion show at Hard Rock Cafe in Delhi with clothing made entirely out of bed net material designed by students of the J.D Institute of Fashion Technology. In Toronto, the Faiths Act Fellows in Canada spread the word about malaria with the help of ‘Philippo’ the mosquito. In the United Kingdom, Faiths Act Fellows Imandeep Kaur and Steve Hirst have been commissioning pieces of art from local artists in Birmingham themed on the injustice of poverty and disease and the power of faith communities working together.
School students have also been taking part. Today Face to Faith students from India, USA, Australia, Lebanon, The United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom connected via video-conference to discuss the significance of World Malaria Day from a range of religious and cultural perspectives. “If we work together we can save the lives of brothers and sisters around the world” one student from the United Arab Emirates commented. And the students haven’t just been learning about malaria, many of them have taken it upon themselves to actively raise awareness in their countries. Just this week DAV Public School, in Delhi, India organised a street play on malaria which was performed in front of all 4,000 students.
In Canada, MP Patrick Brown, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Caucus on Ending Malaria, yesterday received the bed net which has messages from people all over the world committed to the cause sewn on it. “Malaria breaks the hearts of families and shortens lives of individuals irrespective of faith traditions. Hopefully the Where’s the Net campaign can be an example of how our common values and similarities can have a real impact.”
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation is working to make this a reality.
Anyone in can take part in the Where’s the Net Campaign. For every 10 new people following the Net’s journey on our social media threads, Sumitomo Chemical will donate a mosquito net to Malaria No More UK to help prevent malaria.