Zero malaria starts with me

Eastina Taylor, Community Engagement Officer for On Our Radar, reflects on the path to 'zero malaria'

World Malaria Day every year is commemorated with events all over the world. In Sierra Leone, the National Malaria Control Program and its partners usually hold a conference where people make new commitments to end malaria. This year, the event couldn’t happen because of the COVID-19 restrictions on public gathering. That doesn’t change anything. It remains a day to renew our commitments to ending malaria. As it is said in Krio ‘malaria e don wan dae nar wi han’; ‘It is in our hands to end malaria.’

Firstly, the government and partners should invest more money and time into the free malaria service and the service providers. The unavailability of the necessary drugs and reagents can make it tough for health workers in remote communities and accessing health centres is also a big challenge. According to the government the distance between one village to a health centre should be no more than four miles.

Yet people in remote villages like Kayakor in Koinadugu district have to walk 18 miles, to and fro, just to get treatment.

As a journalist focusing on malaria for over 4 years now, I want to remind government that they shoulder a huge responsibility to end malaria. This means recommit again to end the issue of drug shortages in health centres and hospitals.

They need to incentivise health workers, especially the ones in remote places. When making health decisions for people, these workers should be included at the formative stage. The malaria focal teams in different districts also need to be more proactive than they are at the moment.

Proper monitoring is necessary in achieving ‘zero malaria’. The government should start investing more checks and balances and revisit strategies that are not effective.

To the people, our role in ending malaria is most important. It is our responsibility to demand prevention and treatment services, use them properly and report to our leaders if they are faulty.

Community-led accountability, where people start asking questions, will put health service providers on their guard and improve services in every community. People must be bold enough to report any problems and issues that they face to leaders in their communities.

Community Health Workers can play a very active role in breaching the gap between the people and the health system. Their presence should help more people access clinics, testing and treatment for malaria.

Now that malaria awareness is increasing, there is an important period ahead to switch from our old ways to the new: using insecticide treated nets, going to the hospital to do malaria test within 24 hours, completing full antimalarial treatment and cleaning our environment to avoid mosquitoes breeding in stagnant waters.

By this time next year, we should start seeing real results, but only if we follow this path to ‘zero malaria’.

Zero malaria starts with me, Eastina Taylor, Community Engagement Officer for On Our Radar. My commitment towards ending malaria is to continue to engage more communities on good malaria practices.

Join the campaign over on Twitter by posting your ‘zero’ photo under #ZeroMalariaStartsWithMe.