Originally posted on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog.
By Yacine Djibo,
President, Speak Up Africa*
Although preventable and treatable, malaria takes the life of one child every 60 seconds in Africa. In Thienaba, Senegal, one man’s grief and determination inspired the community to take a stand against the disease.
In late 1999, El Hadj Diop lost his 12-year-old daughter to malaria. Stricken with grief, he was determined that no other parent should lose a child to the disease. Working closely with his community’s women—the ones most affected by the disease—El Hadj created a local organization, Sopey Naby, to raise awareness about malaria and reduce the burden of malaria on families in their community. Indeed, in the Senegalese village of Thienaba, women are the ones who care for their sick children and husbands, taking them to the health center and standing by them until they recover, at the expense of their chores and professional activities.
Thanks to El Hadj’s relentless work and perseverance, Sopey Naby now includes 73 neighbouring villages. With the help of the local women’s associations, religious leaders, and village councils, all 73 villages have worked together to fight the disease. They urge community members to sleep under insecticide-treated mosquito nets every night and to go to the nearest health post in case of fever. The organization also leads intensive village cleaning operations to boot malaria out of their lives once and for all. They even set up accountability mechanisms, such as conducting unannounced nightly home visits to ensure that everyone is sleeping under their bednets and fining those who are not. The money collected is put into a solidarity fund and used to provide proper healthcare to those who cannot afford it.
In the 13 years since El Hadj lost his daughter, there have been no deaths from malaria in any of the 73 villages comprising Sopey Naby. Furthermore, 49 of those villages have not registered a single case of malaria since 2009. Gandhi once advised us to be the change we wanted to see in this world; El Hadj Diop and his community are showing us how leadership and determination can save lives.
*Speak Up Africa is a Dakar-based health communications and advocacy organization whose goal is to engage all sectors of African society in the fight to eliminate malaria.