Action Africa Inc. Launches a New Approach Against Malaria in Sierra Leone and Nigeria by Teaching Children to be Proactive Ambassadors

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Action Africa Inc. is leading a new fight against malaria in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. School children are learning to become proactive ambassadors that have decimated large populations and humiliated governments. The overall success of this endeavor relies on collaboration.

Action Africa has an active presence in Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Sierra Leone is a small country that sits off the west coast of Africa. It is one of the top ten diamond producing nations and is a major producer of gold. It is rich with titanium, bauxite and rutile and boasts the third largest natural harbor in the world. 70% of the people live in poverty and it remains devastatingly low on the Human Development Index, ranking 180 for quality of life out of 187 countries. Nigeria shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in the north. Its coast in the south lies on the Gulf of Guinea on the Atlantic Ocean. Malaria is a major public health problem in Nigeria where it accounts for more cases and deaths than any other country in the world; 97% of Nigeria's population is at risk with the remaining 3% of the population living in the malaria free highlands. Malaria contributes to an estimated 11% of its maternal mortality.

Action Africa Inc. is at the forefront in the fight against malaria. Using a holistic bottom-up approach, Action Africa is committed to providing environmental impact education at all levels, starting from elementary school and continuing to secondary schools through to tertiary institutions. Children are taught how to keep their environments clean and are encouraged to inspire adults to do the same. They are taught how broken pots, open containers, pot holes, and other areas which hold water are perfect environments for breeding mosquitoes; and taught that by limiting or eliminating the conditions that mosquitoes favor the population of these disease causing insects can be dramatically reduced.

Malaria continues to be one of the greatest public health challenges of our time. With half of the world’s population at risk of malaria, this preventable disease kills nearly one million people per year ranking it fifteenth in the cause of death worldwide. Malaria is caused by parasites that enter the blood through the bite of a mosquito. After infection, the parasites (called sporozoites) travel through the bloodstream to the liver, where they mature and release another form, the merozoites. The parasites enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells. It causes fever, anemia, and can lead to severe complications and death. Of those deaths caused by malaria 85% are children who are under five, with birth weight due to the mother becoming infected with malaria during pregnancy.

A number of tried and tested measures have been used to curtail the menace of malaria including medication, insecticides larva ides, insecticide treated bed nets, screening of doors and windows, aerial fumigation and more recently genetic modification of the vector-Anopheles Mosquitoes. Many of these methods are expensive and others are provided without ensuring the proper education is given to people in order for them to continue and sustain the preventative measures.

The toughest areas to control in the fight against malaria are those which contribute the most to the infestation of mosquito-born illnesses; population growth, urbanization without sufficient infrastructure and civil services, and changing weather patterns. When population growth surpasses existing infrastructure, wastewater treatment systems fail to manage the influx, dumpsites and sanitation cannot contain the increased refuse, and drainage systems are often damaged and not maintained. All of these conditions contribute to the possibility of excess water pooling, which provides the perfect habitat for disease causing mosquitoes to breed.

The message here is clear; if small changes are made in the way people control their environment the risk of infection from malaria can be decreased significantly. By providing people with the information and education about the causes and preventive measures of this debilitating disease on communities we can help fight back against the infestation of malaria.

Another weapon in the fight against malaria is insecticide treated bed nets. Insecticide treated bed nets are one of the most effective ways to prevent malaria. The premise behind the nets is simple; the netting prevents malarial mosquitoes from biting people while they're asleep, and the insecticide kills and repels the insects. If high community coverage is achieved, the numbers of mosquitoes, as well as their length of life will be reduced. World health experts argue that using the insecticide treated nets can reduce child mortality in malarial regions by 20%.

When delivering a 40’ container of medical supplies to Magburaka Hospital in Sierra Leone, Dr. Pratt the hospital’s Medical Director discussed with Action Africa his disappointment with being unable to provide a mosquito net to the people in the most vulnerable groups at risk from malaria. This disease is easily prevented if precautions and preventative actions are taken. Action Africa intends to return with additional supplies to Magburaka Hospital and deliver the mosquito netting in April 2013 on a planned trip with Project CURE.

Action Africa, Inc. is a volunteer run 501(c) 3 organization based in Washington DC. It was founded in 2000 to focus on the development and implementation of programs in sub-Saharan Africa.

[Prof. David Ifudu, Vice President, Susan Hoefling, Executive Director, and Leanne Bannister, Volunteer Researcher, also contributed to this article.]

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Susan Hoefling
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