ON 25 April this week, Uganda joins the World in marking â€˜World Malaria Dayâ€™ under the theme: â€œCounting Malaria Outâ€. Malaria is predictable, preventable and curable.
However, a large part of the population at the grassroots do not have ample knowledge about the disease.
Frederick Womakuyu talked to Makerere University students about their research findings on the ignorance of the disease by local people and what is being done to educate the masses about it
Despite enormous efforts by health professionals, educators and the Government to fight Malaria, the disease remains the most significant health threat to Ugandans.
A team of medical students from Makerere University believes that professionals leading the fight against malaria are not listening to the voices of the people affected by the disease.
As a result, programmes to educate them about malaria prevention are failing. â€œIn Uganda, the main problem is not lack of information.
We just do not package information well enough for the ordinary man to understand,â€ said Nixon Nyonzima, a medical student from MUK
In June and July 2007, medical students spent six weeks in Mifumi village in Tororo, eastern Uganda, listening to what villagers knew about malaria after which they designed an educational programme to fill gaps in the peopleâ€™s knowledge.
The students, who presented their findings in a video conference with the U.S National Library of Medicine (NLM) and Fogarty International Centre, learned that the villagersâ€™ ideas about malaria are neither correct nor incorrect.
Responses like; â€œMangoes cause malaria in this village, â€œWhen I eat mangoes I get sick,â€ were very common.
This was an indication that people had not received correct information on how malaria spreads. However, the researchers learnt that the villagers were not far from the
truth, because during the rainy season when mangoes are in plenty, malaria cases increase because mosquitoes breed around the bushes, in broken bottles, containers and swamps.
â€œWhen people in these places get bitten by mosquitoes, they attribute the attack of malaria to mangoes,â€ said William Lubega, one of the researchers.
Lack of medical advice
Researchers were stunned to learn that locals think malaria is caused by witchcraft or bad spirits. Similarly, most villagers do not seek medical advice due to ignorance.
â€œWhen one is suffering from malaria in that village, the pain may subside for some time even when they have not visited a health centre.
But the malaria germ (plasmodium) remains in the body, causing the victim to succumb to the disease again,â€ Lubega said.
They also discovered that there was a link between malaria and diarrhoea in Mifumi village due to absence of a protected water source in the area.
The people share wells with animals and lack basic knowledge about personal hygiene. Another problem encountered was misuse of anti-malaria drugs.
According to Brian Sseruyombya, a pharmacy student, the people had tried various drugs and had given up visiting health centres because it made no difference.
â€œThe majority of the people had not completed their doses while others used over-the-counter drugs and practiced self medication, especially taking Panadol, a pain killer,â€ he said.
Others had resorted to sharing drugs with immediate family members because everyone could not afford their own.
Ignorance and poverty
The researchers attributed all these problems to ignorance, lack of basic education, poverty, and cultural beliefs.
Working with the faculty of medicine, a team of Ugandan doctors, artists and translators, the group created text and illustrations for the
tutorials on malaria that the community could understand.
The reseachers partnered with the community at all levels to ensure that the message was understood.
The community-based education service that was set up gave people an opportunity to ask questions concerning malaria treatment and prevention over the radio and village meetings.
Local leaders interpreted the messages about the disease into the local language.
The researchers also asked school children to pass malaria messages to the community. â€œChildren are the best mode through which health education can be passed.
Most can read and write because of universal primary education They can teach their uneducated parents about malaria,â€ said Deborah Kisige, another resaecher.
They taught them about the causes, signs and symptoms of the disease and how to prevent it.
Hope for change
A change was immediately noticed. A few days later, people started slashing bushes around their compounds, they stopped sharing tablets, and made toilet covers from wood to ensure personal hygiene.
â€œThey abandoned the belief that malaria is caused by eating
mangoes or witchcraft.
They also sought medical advice from health professionals,â€ said Thomas Kiggundu, another member of the team.
The ministry of health indicate that malaria accounts for 25-40% of all outpatientsâ€™ visits at health centres, 20% of hospital admissions, 9-14% of in-patient deaths, and it kills 3-5% of the people who contract it.
Each year, malaria kills about 100,000 people in Uganda, nearly a quarter of whom are children aged five and below.
Malaria- People still think it is caused by Witchcraft, eating mangoes