In the past decade, Senegal has made great strides in reducing malaria mortality rates by 62%. High-impact and proven interventions, all recommended by WHO have been implemented at scale to reach these great results. The country is now about to start another mass distribution of over 8 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets with the ambition of covering every single sleeping space; artemisinin-based combination therapies are free in all public health facilities; and more and more focus is set on the importance of early care seeking. Children under 5, the most vulnerable to the disease, can now benefit from quality care and treatment in public health facilities, free of charge, to further close the inequity gap.
Nonetheless, malaria remains a major cause of mortality & morbidity throughout the country. New innovative and more participative strategies are needed to increase the reach and effectiveness of every single intervention.
What can we do to ensure that no one dies from malaria, even in the most remote communities?
A few years back, Senegal’s National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) introduced its new slogan: “Doctors treat malaria but communities fight it”. This clearly encompasses the vision that the NMCP and its partners now want to put forward in the national malaria control and elimination strategy. Leveraging grassroots programs already emphasizing the importance of community outreach for eventually creating malaria free communities, the NMCP, PATH and Speak Up Africa launched on World Malaria Day a new community engagement program “Zero Malaria Starts With Me”.
The program will strive to create a network of malaria champions in each of the country’s 76 districts, mobilized to eliminate malaria in their respective communities. Selected based upon criteria such as their willingness to participate in their communities’ development, their ability to communicate effectively to their peers and most important their dedication to volunteer for the greater good, these community champions will be trained to raise awareness about malaria prevention and treatment in their communities.
Despite the NMCP’s many efforts to provide effective prevention and treatment tools to communities, there is still a critical need to educate populations and inform them of the active role they can play in protecting themselves and defeating this preventable disease. The Zero Malaria Starts With Me community aims to extending the existing national communication platforms and thus support Senegal’s universal coverage campaign and other malaria elimination investments, with a focus on promoting the proper utilization and care of mosquito nets and other best practices revolving around sanitation, early treatment seeking, rapid diagnosis tests (RDT).
Education is the first step to prevention. Following a three-day training, each community champion shall conduct home visits and organize social mobilization activities as well as awareness sessions in schools. In a the selected pilot zone, Pikine, located in the suburbs of Dakar, an area affected by persistent flooding during the rainy season, community champions will come up with locally tailored solutions to not only raise awareness around malaria elimination but also secure resources to ensure proper measures are taken at the local level.
The NMCP and its partners will support these local heroes in proposing standards and suggesting potential collaboration avenues with the local private sector. By self-financing their activities, community champions cover their operating costs and thus fully control their progress towards the common national objective: reach malaria elimination in this lifetime.