Just one person can help save a life

Posted by Catherine Seneviratne, MACEPA Project Administrator

Helping out with the 2010 Malawi Malaria Indicator Survey was the first time I had really ever participated in fieldwork.  I have worked in Zambia and Ethiopia before, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from the trip—and what stuck with me wasn’t what I expected.  I’ve heard quite a bit about politicians, donors, and national governments helping to fight malaria, but what moved me the most during my trip was hearing stories from people who are out in the field working with sick people every day: the nurses, the lab technicians, the health workers.

Showing a young child how to treat his malaria

I arrived in Malawi in March, and my second day helping to implement the actual survey was spent with a group outside the town of Dedza.  I was lucky enough to be working with two lab techs, two nurses, and someone helping to map all the houses we stopped at. It was really amazing to watch these people work and see how they adapted to every difficult situation, providing the best care possible to every person we tested for malaria.

I watched as one particular lab tech named Makamo took the lead at a household.  He did everything perfectly, just as he was taught at the training.  The lab tech tested a 5-year-old boy who came up positive for both anemia and malaria. Just as the tech was finishing up, he went off course slightly.  He gave the mother medicine for her son—CoArtem—and instructed her on proper administration of the drug, then he asked her to repeat back to him how to use it.  I had attended the training and knew how lab techs are told to handle these situations, but I don’t remember that step.

After the mother proved she understood the treatment, the lab tech then went to the sick boy and told him how to the drug was going to be administered.  He asked the boy questions to make sure he understood, that he would take all the medication needed to make him get better.  It may seem like a little detail, but it could be the difference between that little boy staying sick and getting well.  The tech wasn’t just giving the mother the drugs—he was empowering her.  She now understood what she could do to make her son better.  He also told her which signs would tell her whether her son was sick with malaria again.

Planning is important, so is training and procurement, but having people who care at every level can make all the difference in the fight against malaria.

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