Working together to eradicate malaria

By Sala Sweet

Community member Sala Sweet’s experiences in Ghana over many years have inspired her to connect to assistance groups in the Pacific Northwest working to eradicate Malaria.

Malaria affects everyone in Ghana.  Children contract it at young ages and sometimes die from it.  Once you have malaria, it can return again and again. This affects how you do in school. As you grow into adulthood, it reduces your effectiveness in your work, profession and your ability to support your family.  It affects the economy of your village, your community and your nation because the workforce is always missing some of its people.  Malaria has many different strains, some more serious than others, some permanently disabling and some fatal.

Ghana is one of the top ten nations in the world in terms of per capita cases of malaria and its impact is felt in most areas of the country.  Of those top ten countries, Ghana’s government health service spends more than the other countries in attempting to control malaria. 

Rotary sign in Ghana

During the past year I became aware of the Rotarian Malaria Partnership  (RMP).  RMP is an international initiative to control and eventually eradicate malaria.  It is a partnership between Rotary International,  which is supported by over 33,000 Rotary clubs in 200 countries, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and PATH, a global health nonprofit organization.   Rotary and the Gates Foundation have partnered with the World Health Organization and others over the past decades to nearly eradicate polio – from 1,000 cases of paralysis a day in 1988 to 14 cases total world-wide in 2018.  Now these partners are taking on malaria.

This partnership, working with local nongovernmental organizations, has supported initiatives in rural communities in Zambia and Uganda.  Activities include giving bed nets to residents, establishing a spraying regimen with an appointed spray person, spray materials and a bicycle,  training health care professionals living within the community and in some cases offering prophylactics for 4-6 months to a majority of the population in a village.  Where all of these modalities are used together, malaria incidence has been reduced drastically.

I contacted the Director of the National Malaria Control Programme within the Ghana Health Service and will be connecting with her regularly as I begin to assist local Rotarians and partners here in the Northwest to develop a local program to diminish malaria.

I have witnessed the impact of malaria in Ghana during my travels here over the past 20 years.  I saw it affecting those in the villages where I lived in the Peace Corps.  I have seen children and adults that I know personally suffer from malaria, and have a friend who contracted a severe case of malaria that continues to impact his health.  Fortunately, I live in Seattle, where the Board of Directors for RMP meets and where the international headquarters of the Gates Foundation and PATH are located.  I want to plant the seeds for fighting malaria in Ghana and am well located to continue my  personal role as a partner.

During my 5 weeks in Ghana this year I met with 5 Rotary Clubs – Accra Airport City, Accra West, Accra South, Accra, the first Rotary Club in Ghana  and Weija-West to make them aware of this opportunity and encourage them to begin an initiative in Ghana.  Weija West in particular has shown a keen interest in diminishing malaria in a community that experiences a high incidence of cases.  They are brand new club, chartered just 2 months ago and are enthusiastic about helping their community in many ways.  Members of the Rotary Clubs Accra West and Accra are interested in collaborating with them.

Drums at the Rotary meeting

I attended a Weija-West Rotary meeting, met with their Project Committee and attended an event that they presented in Kokrobite in the Weija area. That event provided health information from local and government health organizations. For Rotarians back in the US – this was not as you might experience such an event in Seattle.  It began with drumming and dancing in the traditional manner. The local Chief was present along with other local dignitaries.  It was scheduled to begin at 9 am and began at 10:30 am.  This was a lesson for the Weija-West club as this was their first community event.  It was held in a fishing village and the fisherman had not returned from their early morning fishing.  As the morning wore on, more and more people allowed their curiosity to bring them to the meeting. 

The presentation was focused on sexual health and sexual abuse. Some questions or statements brought teasing and laughter, but important questions were addressed.  And serious concerns were expressed by village members.

It was important that a safe space was created to allow difficult and sometimes embarrassing questions to be asked by those who live in the village. Each presentation had to be made in both English and the local language – Twi.  In the end local athletes were presented with soccer balls.                   

Athletes presented with soccer balls

This is how a connection and trust between a Rotary Club and a community begin.  And this day was a good beginning.  I believe this will be a good community and a good club to work with to diminish malaria.   There are significant financial and technical resources available among  Rotary International, the Gates Foundation and PATH.  But it is the Rotarians at the local level that understand the community and make the  program possible. Weija West Rotary, full of enthusiasm and a desire to help their community, was sponsored by the Accra Rotary Club, which has existed for over 50 years and is rich in resources and experience in developing projects. This is a good combination of personal commitment and experience. 

Here in Seattle, I will learn from those who have accomplished this in East Africa and begin to lay the groundwork for a partnership.

There is a special lapel pin that signifies your involvement in eradicating malaria – the Rotarian Malaria Partnership pin.  I left mine behind with my Partners.

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