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Guest blog: African communities tackle malaria

This year, we mark World Malaria Day by highlighting communities here in Africa that are winning the battle against this deadly disease. Locally-led programs from Senegal to Kenya to Ethiopia are employing malaria control methods that are safe for human health and environmentally sustainable. And it's working.

Over the past decade, our organizations — based in West and East Africa — have watched as global malaria control efforts focused in on a small handful of tactics: indoor spraying of insecticides, insecticide treated bed nets, treatment of malaria cases and preventative treatment for pregnant women. We've also seen the resulting rise of insecticide resistance in mosquitoes and resistance to drugs in humans, along with worrisome health impacts of the insecticides being used.

The need for non-chemical, community-based approaches that can be sustained over the long term is very clear — and very urgent. Such approaches have worked successfully over time in Asia, Latin America, and are now working on the ground in Africa as well.

Senegal: On-the-ground success

PAN Africa’s pilot project, supported by PAN Germany, focuses on community-based malaria control in the village of Beer in Senegal. Integrated Vector Management (IVM) is the basic approach used, employing simple common-sense steps to tackle the community's malaria burden.

The results have been striking. After just over a year, fewer school children in Beer are missing school because of malaria, community health workers are identifying and treating malaria cases sooner and more effectively, and more community members are aware of and directly engaged with malaria prevention.

These solid successes were achieved using simple steps with widespread community involvement, such as:

  • clearing up mosquito breeding and resting sites with the residents’ sustained and ongoing participation;
  • improving sanitation;
  • improving the health treatment facilities; and
  • ensuring that all residents are educated about the causes of malaria and ways to protect themselves without sacrificing their long term health. 

An official from the Senegalese National Malaria Control Program said this about the PAN Africa project:

"For us, these are promising strategies because they help in the fight against malaria with less negative impacts on the population than pesticide-based strategies. We know it takes many diverse and complementary strategies to come to grips with malaria."

Good news from Kenya & Ethiopia

In East Africa, the highly regarded International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), has led several community-based malaria vector control projects in Kenya and Ethiopia since 2004. These efforts have met with much success. In a recent evaluation, an independent reviewer described ICIPE's efforts:

"The projects are highly effective in reducing the threat of malaria by reducing mosquito densities using eco-friendly means. They also have the potential to remove harmful chemical pesticides using biopesticides…The projects have had high value for money and are highly scalable and sustainable."

All this is great news for us as we battle malaria in Africa. Community success stories are particularly powerful as we confront the entrenched forces — and simple force of habit or lack of information in some national programs — that continue to support the unnecessary use of harmful pesticides to control malaria in our communities.

Safe & effective malaria control

As we celebrate these successes, we are also sobered by the knowledge that the pesticide DDT continues to be used in some African countries. The human health impacts of DDT exposure are significant and well documented. Unfortunately this does not deter those who continue to tout DDT as a silver-bullet solution to malaria in Africa.

International bodies like the Stockholm Convention and the UN Environment Program are committed to putting alternatives to DDT in place for malaria control. Yet despite clear evidence of success on the ground, political and financial support for community-based, least toxic and non-chemical control methods is still sorely lacking.

Along with our civil society colleagues in Africa we call upon governments in Africa and international malaria aid funders to support IVM and non-chemical strategies for malaria control. It's time to tackle malaria effectively, in a manner that protects the health of our communities both now and in the long run.

This blog was co-authored by Dr Abou Thiam, Regional Coordinator of Pesticide Action Network, Africa, based in Senegal and Silvani Mng'anya, Program Officer from AGENDA, Tanzania.
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