World Malaria Day is a time when the global community comes together around the theme of ending malaria for good. In honor of World Malaria Day 2016, we would like to shine a spotlight on those invaluable, but often unsung heroes working on the “frontlines” of malaria eradication in Nigeria as part of the HC3 Nigeria Malaria project. The community volunteers featured here support Nigeria’s malaria goals by conducting interpersonal communication activities through community dialogues and house-to-house visits in their respective communities. During these events, volunteers are able to share key malaria messages, dispel misinformation and motivate their fellow community members to adopt appropriate malaria behaviors, such as sleeping under a bednet, seeking care at health facilities at the first sign of fever, and testing before treating with artemisinin-combination therapy (ACT).
WASILA HALIMI: LEADING THE CHARGE FOR BED NETS
Wasila Halimi is a 20-year-old woman from Yarbudda community in Kebbi State, which is located in Northern Nigeria. Despite the fact that 86.7% of Kebbi state residents have at least one bednet in their house, the state still has the highest rate (64%) of children under five with malaria in Nigeria. Yarbudda was no exception as residents had access to bednets from a mass distribution almost a year ago, but very few people used them. The prevailing cultural norm was to treat every fever with herbs that are ineffective against malaria.
Because she wanted to help, Wasila decided to volunteer to be a behavior change agent. She said, “I want to see development in my community and make sure nobody is suffering from malaria.” Since working as a volunteer, Wasila has been instrumental in changing the behavior of Yarbudda residents by encouraging them to start using their nets every day to protect themselves against malaria.
[pullquote]I want to see development in my community and make sure nobody is suffering from malaria.[/pullquote]
Wasila has been key in rallying her community to fight malaria. In fact, they have even started pooling and hanging their nets together at the community center to ensure all the children in the community sleep inside a mosquito net at night, regardless of the net ownership status of each family. These pooled nets are a symbol of the community’s new dedication to protecting their children against malaria, as well as a sign of Wasila’s success in reaching her community.
Wasila is dedicated to educating her community and vows to be a lifelong advocate for positive malaria prevention and treatment behaviors. More importantly, Wasila’s work is paying off with a measurable reduction of malaria in her community. She said “I am happy that it is hard to enter a house in Yarbudda now and see someone with fever.”
RILIWANU SANI JEGA: A PASSIONATE VOLUNTEER WITH YEARS OF EXPERIENCE
When you meet Riliwanu Sani Jega, from the Jega local government located in Kebbi State in Northern Nigeria, the first thing you notice is his excitement and dedication at being a community volunteer. Jega is going to be 50 years old next January, yet somehow he has more energy than most of his younger peers. When asked why he is so passionate about the fight against malaria, he said, “this is my way of giving back to my community – they sent me to school when my family could not afford to send me.”
[pullquote]This is my way of giving back to my community – they sent me to school when my family could not afford to send me.[/pullquote]
Jega’s dedication to the cause is impressive. Despite his background as an army private, training in Arabic and education from the School of Health Technology in Jega, he volunteered at the general hospital in Sayaya, Birnin (Kebbi State) for over a year without pay before becoming a paid employee of the hospital. The hospital is about 30 minutes’ drive from Firchin community, where he volunteers as a behavior change agent under the HC3 Nigeria Malaria Project.
In spite of working long hours, Jega drives a considerable distance to volunteer for HC3 and to fight for people’s right to health education and care. He feels the time and work is worth the potential impact, saying, “I am used to working about 15 hours most days because the results motivate me.”
Jega is the definition of an outstanding volunteer. He personally buys ten bednets a month to distribute to people in his community. He facilitates community dialogues and even conducts house-to-house visits. And while it is generally not culturally acceptable for men to enter the family rooms in Kebbi state, Jega’s popularity allows him to enter as he has built trust in the community. The community has even started referring to him as the “Chief Environmental Officer” of Firchin.
LAMI SAMAILA & NAFISA ABDULLAHI: REACTIVATING A PRIMARY HEALTH CENTER
Two HC3 community volunteers in Kimba ward (Jega LGA, Kebbi State, Northern Nigeria) demonstrate the power of teamwork in their efforts to revive a practically deserted Primary Healthcare Clinic (PHC). For several years, the Kimba PHC consistently recorded extremely low demand for commodities and services. The demand was so low that medicines meant for the PHC were shipped out to other facilities to avoid allowing them to expire on the shelf. After attempts to relocate the facility failed, local authorities began deliberations to close down the PHC, which Kimba desperately needed because of a high malaria burden.
But after a year of HC3 community mobilization activities, community members became aware of malaria prevention and treatment, which increased the demand for malaria-related health services. Now, the clinic is experiencing a boom in general outpatient visits, with antenatal care (ANC) attendance at the highest it has been in the clinic’s 20 years of existence.
A key contributor to this success story is Lami Samaila. Lami is a mother, health worker and HC3 behavior change agent – three roles that do not offer much free time. But Lami continues to volunteer because she loves her community and would love to see people live a malaria-free life.
According to Lami, the usual practice in Kaura community, which is within the Kimba ward, is to use herbs for fever – very few people go to the hospital for testing and treatment. However, after one year as a community volunteer, Lami is pleased to see her community starting to go to the PHC in Kimba regularly. She has even seen an overall reduction of incidence of fever in her community.
Another contributor to the PHC revival success story is Nafisa Abdullahi, a teacher at the local primary school and behavior change agent in the Akalawa community. Nafisa decided to volunteer to promote good health practices in her community. She is particularly motivated to reduce the number of pregnant women who take a traditional – yet ineffective against malaria – concoction at seven months into their pregnancy to combat fever. Nafisa is happy with progress she has made in improving the health seeking behavior of her community, stating, “my people now attend ANC and take SP…they also have knowledge about using nets and taking care of the nets.”
SAMMY OLANIRU: SUCCESSES OVERSHADOW HURDLES
Kebbi State Coordinator Sammy Olaniru is a family- oriented man, avid reader and member of several associations such as the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, Nigerian Association of Authors and Nigerian Institute of Management. He is also behind many of the initial successes accomplished by HC3’s Nigeria Malaria Project in Kebbi state.
Olaniru has the experience needed to support state and local governments to effectively run social and behavior change communication (SBCC) activities, as well as mobilize communities around malaria and positive health behaviors. He has been working in development for more than 10 years, in several capacities ranging from HIV to reproductive and maternal and child health, gender, malaria, and even the media. As a part of HC3 Nigeria, he works to strengthen the capacity of the State Malaria Elimination Program (SMEP) to implement malaria SBCC activities through strategic advocacy and communication.
Kebbi state has one of the highest rates of malaria in children under five years in Nigeria. Since HC3’s activities began in 2014, however, Olaniru has seen several positive change come from HC3’s use of SBCC to fight malaria in the region. This includes increasing demand for clinic services, pooling nets to ensure the safety of all children in a community and increasing the uptake of intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy (IPTp) in all intervention wards of the state.
When asked for the “magic ingredient” behind the SBCC activities in Kebbi state, Olaniru said, “We planned our entry very well, carried along all stakeholders, organizations, religious bodies and opinion leaders.” He also added, “Community involvement is at the heart of HC3 SBCC activities. Volunteers were recruited through the help of community leaders and were duly interviewed and trained to make sure that they were well placed to be effective in influencing community members on appropriate malaria behaviors. We also monitor our wards and the activities of the community volunteers very closely.”
HC3 appreciates the hard work of all of its volunteers and stakeholders in Kebbi state in the fight against malaria.