Creative ways to prevent malaria in Zimbabwe

Baby sleeping on a bed (© Gideon Mendel/Corbis/Getty Images)
A baby suffering from malaria in a hospital in Zimbabwe (© Gideon Mendel/Corbis/Getty Images)

Not too long ago in Chapoto, a community in Zimbabwe near the borders of Zambia and Mozambique, babies often died from high fevers brought on by malaria.

“We used to bury our babies because we thought illness was caused by the heat (high temperatures) in our area,” said Serina Karerahonye, a young mother in the village.

Information about malaria treatment and prevention had failed to reach Karerahonye and others like her due to language barriers and low literacy rates. The villagers speak Chikunda, and malaria education materials in Zimbabwe are printed in English or Shona.

But a new project has changed that. Today, people in Chapoto can learn about malaria in the Chikunda language through 50 solar-powered audiobooks.

The audiobook is titled Dipa la malaria, meaning “the spear to fight [and eliminate] malaria for good.” The Zimbabwe Assistance Program in Malaria led the project, with assistance from Chapoto community members and funding from the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative.

“We have learned that we have to quickly go to the clinic or hospital before children develop convulsions if they are ill,” said Karerahonye.

Around the world, 435,000 people die every year and 219 million others are sickened from the malaria-carrying mosquitoes that spread the disease. The majority of all malaria cases, 92 percent, occur in Africa.

The ‘spear to fight’ malaria

With Chapoto villagers taking the lead acting roles, the fictional stories in the audiobook describe the illness and common challenges and then explain how to overcome them.

In one story, a young couple’s 5-year-old child develops malaria and the infection becomes complicated due to late treatment. On their way to the health clinic, the family encounters various situations that teach them how to treat, control and prevent malaria.

In Chapoto, as in other malaria-prone communities, the disease is controlled through:

  • Indoor spraying that safely applies insecticide to walls and ceilings on which malaria-carrying mosquitoes are likely to rest.
  • Distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets that go over beds to protect people while they sleep.
  • Treatment at health clinics and through malaria prevention programs especially designed for pregnant women.
GIF showing silhouetted mother and child under mosquito net with mosquitoes flitting outside it (State Dept./D. Thompson)
In Zimbabwe, USAID distributed 807,700 insecticide-treated nets in fiscal year 2018. (State Dept./D. Thompson)

The audiobook project is one of several creative means, including song and dance, the President’s Malaria Initiative has funded to help spread the word about malaria prevention.

Dipa has brought a noticeable change,” report health officials from the President’s Malaria Initiative. “There has been a clear shift towards better understanding and willingness to act and seek treatment at the clinic.”

Dipa is good for us,” Karerahonye said.

This article draws from a story featured on the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative blog.