“We help people to help themselves” How MSF health promoter empowers people in the south of Mali in their fight against malaria

“We help people to help themselves” How MSF health promoter empowers people in the south of Mali in their fight against malaria

“Do you know who I am?”
“You work for Médecins Sans Frontières.”
“And what does Médecins Sans Frontières do in Mali?”
“You help treat diseases like Malaria.”
”We treat malaria, that’s right. And that is exactly what I have come to talk to you about today.”

Madinata Maiga is talking to eighth and ninth graders in the school of Kangaba, a town in the South of Mali. The young woman is a health promoter for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). She visits villages, schools and health centres in the region of Kangaba and talks to people about malaria.

Madinata Maiga is very good at her job: She captures the full attention of the 111 students in front of her. ”What is malaria?“ ”How does one catch the disease?“ And ”And how do we protect ourselves from it?“ Madinata does not have to wait for answers. The pupils stretch out their hands, flick their fingers and shout out to catch her attention. Their calls of „”Moi, Madame, moi!“, resonate throughout the room.

Finding solutions together
The adolescents assembled in the room know a lot about malaria. Most of them have been sick with the disease several times in their life. Fifteen-year-old Cissé Koné says that mosquitoes transmit the parasites that cause malaria. His friend Ibrahim Traoré knows that water, rubbish and plants attract mosquitoes. And Mariam Si lists the main symptoms of the disease: fever, headaches, nausea and shivering. ”The pupils have a lot of knowledge“, says Madinata. ”I don’t come here to lecture them. Rather, they themselves work out the problems that their families face. And together, we look for solutions“.

For instance there is problem of protecting themselves adequately from mosquito bites. ”We distribute bed nets that are treated with insecticide. The people sleep under them and so cannot be bitten at night. But the mosquitoes are active in the evening as well. This is a problem, because for the most part life takes place outside: on the fields, where the children play at night, and around the huts, where the families sit, eat and chat together until late into the night”. Together with Madinata, the pupils identify additional ways to protect themselves. By wearing long clothes, for instance, through which the mosquitoes cannot bite them. Or by avoiding puddles in their villages, closing off the wells when they aren’t in use, and keeping their villages as clean as possible.

Antenatal check-ups save lives
Change of scene: In the health centre of Kangaba, the nurses are carrying out antenatal check-ups and vaccinations today. It is Wednesday, market day in Kangaba. On this day, the women and mothers always travel into town. From some villages, it takes them more than two hours on foot. Many have come today; they are awaiting their turn in the shady courtyard of the small building. Madinata Maiga has come too; she wants to use the women’s time to talk to them about malaria prevention. Her topic today: malaria in pregnancy. The disease is dangerous for pregnant women, because their immune system does not function as normal. What is more, the usual symptoms of the disease are less pronounced in pregnancy. But an undetected, untreated case of malaria can lead to miscarriage or severely damage to the baby.

That is why regular check-ups are important. Among other things, they allow for pregnant women to be tested on malaria. If they test positive to the disease, they receive a combination therapy based on the active ingredient artemisinin, or ACT – this is the most effective treatment for malaria. If they test negative, MSF provides them with the so-called “Intermittent Preventive Treatment” against malaria. With this, women are given pills twice, in the forth and in the seventh month of their pregnancy, to protect them against the disease.

Madinata Maiga and fourteen other Malian staff carry out the health promotion activities for MSF in and around Kangaba – a region that is home to around 100.000 people. The teams travel a lot; they visit four villages each week. “I am proud to be doing this work”, says Madinata. ”The people here are strong, but they are also very vulnerable. They live in poverty and the nearest health centre is often far away. We help them to help themselves. So that they and their families stay healthy.“