Empowering communities to beat malaria

Problem

Malaria is a deadly, infectious disease with a complex life cycle. So complex in fact that after many years of research, scientists have still not been able to come up with a definitive solution to eradicate the disease completely. If one looks at the key global malaria facts, some shocking statistics highlight the seriousness of the situation. There were an estimated 214 million new cases of malaria, and approximately 438 000 people died of this preventable and treatable disease in 2015 alone, with children under the age of five years accounting for more than two-thirds of all deaths associated with the disease. Additionally, in affected communities people generally do not have the financial means to get treatment, or live in rural areas far removed from clinics that can provide timely access to medical care - a situation, which is perpetuating a vicious cycle of poverty in the developing world.

Solution

According to Dr Taneshka Kruger from the University of Pretoria Centre for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP CSMC), a multi-focus approach is needed to fight malaria effectively. Focussing on either vector control or parasite control is simply not enough - there needs to be a wider focus in order to move from the control stage to the elimination stage in the fight against malaria. Dr Kruger feels strongly that educating people about malaria is the key to getting the maximum benefit from current malaria control and prevention strategies. ‘Communities need to be empowered through education so that they know how to protect themselves against this devastating disease,’ she says.

In the UP CSMC there are three different research clusters that focus respectively on human health, parasite control and vector control. Education is the key factor that is critical to the success of the research being done in all three these clusters.

Progress

The focus of the UP CSMC is safer malaria control and management, with community involvement and health education in affected communities being addressed as part of health promotion. The research conducted at the Centre is truly multi-disciplinary in nature as evidenced by the fact that it involves more than 60 staff members from seven faculties at UP.

Staff at the UP CSMC are currently involved in various projects and initiatives that focus specifically on education and health promotion. These include theSibo fights malaria’outreach project; a project wherea song is being developed to educate people about malaria in the Vembe district; and various projects by students investigating the possibility of includingmalaria education as part of the South African school curriculum. The Centre recently also partnered with students at UP’s Drama Department to develop an educational play on malaria aimed at rural school children.

Published by Srinivasu Nadupalli

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