Community engagement

A choir performs at a malaria event in Mpongwe District, Zambia. Photo: PATH/Todd Jennings.

A choir performs at a malaria event in Mpongwe District, Zambia. Photo: PATH/Todd Jennings.

Sleeping under a bednet every night, getting tested promptly for malaria at the onset of fever, and opening one’s home to indoor residual spraying are proven malaria prevention methods. But in many malaria-endemic areas the first line of defense against the disease is changing the behaviors and preconceptions that some community members have regarding these interventions.

Effective community engagement involves respected messengers sharing information with community members. Given the opportunity to work directly with health professionals and receive accurate information, these community members can then embrace proven techniques and innovative new strategies and take a giant step toward a malaria-free future.

A PATH-developed approach called Applied Behavioral Communication is being practiced in Zambia, using community-based communication methods, mass media, performance art, and advocacy by local leaders to help educate community members on the proper and consistent use of the interventions, and understand why they are so vital to preventing malaria.

Media influence

Radio, television, and public announcements can be an effective means of reaching large numbers of people. In rural areas radio in particular can influence and inspire listeners to discuss malaria and attend—or host—meetings about the disease with other community members.

But as influential as mass media are, they cannot compete with interpersonal communication, the most powerful method to teach, answer questions, and reduce unwarranted concerns.

Chief Singani of the Tonga people in southern Zambia. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Chief Singani of the Tonga people in southern Zambia. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Traditional leaders help stem the malaria tide

Zambia has many chiefdoms presided over by traditional leaders who have a trusted voice and substantial influence. Chiefs can be powerful advocates for health. Briefed with the latest information from their country’s malaria program, chiefs can help convey those messages to their communities and build support for malaria interventions and compliance with promising, new prevention and treatment approaches.

Bringing the drama to malaria education

Live drama groups can bring some levity to malaria education, weaving important malaria messages in the local language through skits, tap-your-feet songs, and dance. Drama groups tailor their stories and language to the tribe and dialect where they are performing. In areas where the local economy is reliant on fishing, for example, they may tell the story—and negative consequences—of a husband who used the mosquito net his wife received during a prenatal visit to catch fish rather than to protect his family from disease.

There are many additional channels and strategies for mobilizing communities to protect themselves against malaria. MACEPA programs deploy the full range, tailoring each approach to the local situation.

But how do we create a clear picture of the local situation? That is where quality data and surveillance come in.