This is a short story about how a group of people got together to fight malaria in their village. Their village was plagued with malaria. Malaria was making everyone sick. They had fevers. Their joints were sore. They had diarrhoea and stomach aches. Sometimes they vomited.
Everyone knew these symptoms of malaria but not everyone understood how they got malaria in the first place. So they had a village meeting to learn more about this disease.
At the meeting Maria, the village health worker, talked about malaria. She described how people get this illness and how they can protect themselves from malaria. This is what she told the people.
Malaria comes from mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite. This parasite lives inside one kind of mosquito.
These mosquitoes lay their eggs in still water. They do not need much water – they can lay eggs in a puddle the size of a large thumbnail. Very small worms hatch from the eggs. If you look carefully you can see these worms which are called “wrigglers” because they wiggle in the water. The wrigglers grow and change into mosquitoes in a few days.
The mosquitoes feed on people’s blood only from sundown to sunrise. They do not bite people during the day.
Knowing these things about malaria, the villagers decided that their first project would be to reduce the number of mosquitoes. To do this, they had to get rid of all the places where small amounts of water could collect, so that the mosquitoes could not lay their eggs.
The villagers saw many places where water was lying around. They removed old tires, tins and buckets so that water could not collect inside. They filled the tires with soil to make small gardens. They filled in all the large hoof prints, puddles and other holes where water could collect, and drained swampy areas where possible.
The villagers also needed to stop the sickness by protecting everyone from the mosquito bites. Because these mosquitoes bite from sundown to sunrise, the villagers needed to protect themselves during this time. They learned that they should sleep under bed nets so that mosquitoes could not bite them.
Bed nets can be expensive and difficult to find. The villagers who had bed nets were careful not to tear them. If there were any holes in their bed nets, the holes were fixed right away. But many people did not have nets. Instead, they slept under a sheet or wore bed clothes. They burned cow dung to repel the mosquitoes. The villagers talked to Maria and together they tried to get bed nets for everyone. They gave bed nets to the children and pregnant women first, since they had less strength to fight off the malaria parasite.
Later they discovered that people in other villages were using bed nets soaked in insecticide. They learned that insecticides kill mosquitoes when they land on the bed nets. Although this method worked well, the villagers were afraid that the insecticide, called permethrin, could be harmful to them and their land.
Once again, the villagers went to see Maria.
Maria warned them to be careful when using the insecticides. She explained that sometimes insecticides can be helpful. If the bed net is soaked in insecticide and there is a hole, the mosquito dies before it has time to fly around the net and find the hole. When there is no insecticide on the bed net, then the mosquito is free to roam around and find holes which allow it to come inside and bite anyone sleeping under the bed net. The best method is to repair all the holes in the net.
Maria said that if they decided to use insecticides they must be careful. She explained some safety measures to follow. The insecticide must be mixed with water. They must follow the instructions for soaking bed nets carefully.
Although bed nets soaked in insecticide sounded good, the villagers knew the bed nets needed soaking with insecticide every six months. They still worried that insecticide could harm their water and land. And insecticides cost money. The villagers spent a lot of time talking about whether to use the insecticides. They could not decide. In the end, some of them used the insecticide and some did not. The villagers who did not use insecticide continued to use their bed nets, bed clothes or sheets. They continued to repel mosquitoes by burning cow dung during the night.
Although fewer people were getting sick with malaria it was impossible to get rid of it entirely. So, despite their precautions, some people still got malaria. That’s why it is still important to know how to recognize and treat malaria.
If you have the symptoms of malaria – a fever, chills, sore joints, diarrhoea and stomach aches – you should get treatment immediately. A health worker can give anti-malaria pills to fight the malaria parasite. It is important to take all the pills. After taking a few pills, some people start to feel better. They think they don’t need their pills any more so they stop taking them. Then, of course, these people get sick again because the pills do not have enough time to destroy all the malaria parasites. This is why all the anti-malaria pills must be taken.
The story of this village shows us that we must get rid of all possible breeding places of the mosquito that carries malaria. And we should sleep under bed nets or bed clothes. It reminds us that we should take anyone who has a fever to a health worker right away in case the person has malaria. And we know that if it is malaria, we must take all of the anti-malaria pills.
- This script was prepared by Catherine Fergusson, a nurse certified in international health and tropical diseases, Toronto, Canada. It was reviewed by Dr. Bruce McCraw, Parasitologist, Guelph, Canada.
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