A song to end malaria

Go to the local market in northern Uganda’s Amolatar District and you might be treated to a lively song and dance performance about malaria prevention.

Anthony Okello composed the music and lyrics to encourage the people in his community to take advantage of a U.S.-backed indoor insecticide-spraying program to kill mosquitoes that carry the life-threatening disease.

“Some community members did not understand the importance of [indoor spraying]. I thought, if I write this song, they can pick up messages from it,” Okello said.

In 2014, Okello joined the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative program in Uganda, in which he’s helped to implement lifesaving malaria preventive measures such as the Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) Project. He noticed that fewer people in his community got sick with malaria after the spraying program began.

“I was responsible for sending in blood samples for malaria detection,” Okello said. “Before IRS, 7 out of 10 cases would be detected as malaria. After IRS, there were only about two or three.”

People dancing on a lawn (PMI Uganda IRS Project)
Community members sing and dance about the importance of indoor residual spraying to kill mosquitoes and prevent malaria in Uganda’s Amolatar District. (PMI Uganda IRS Project)

Okello convinced three friends to join his malaria education musical act, and the four popular performers now have fans throughout the region.

“We mobilize in the market because we want our community to be healthy. They hear the music and they come, and then we tell them about IRS after we sing and dance,” said fellow musician Charles Olupot.

The songs also encourage people to sleep under insecticide-treated nets and urge pregnant women and those with malaria symptoms to visit health clinics for preventive care and treatment.

A deadly disease

Malaria kills nearly 450,000 people each year around the world, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Children with malaria are especially vulnerable and account for around 70 percent of all malaria-related deaths.

Malaria also contributes to poverty and food insecurity and diminishes educational opportunities because it’s “one of the main reasons that children miss school and adults miss work,” according to the President’s Malaria Initiative 2017 Report.

Although deadly, malaria can also be prevented and treated.

Saving lives

Because of the success of malaria prevention programs like the one that inspired Okello to sing and dance, nearly 7 million lives have been saved since the President’s Malaria Initiative was launched in 2005. Also, there’s a significant decrease in reported malaria cases in the partner countries where the U.S.-backed program works.

Two women standing in front of draped malaria nets (PMI Uganda IRS Project)
The Uganda Indoor Residual Spraying Project informs people about the use and importance of mosquito nets. (PMI Uganda IRS Project)

“The music helped us a lot to mobilize people for the spray activities,” he said. “Many people had listened to the music and learned how important IRS is in controlling malaria.”

April 25 is World Malaria Day.

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