MAMaZ Against Malaria: Rabbecca’s Story
When Rabbecca’s toddler fell sick, she immediately suspected it was severe malaria. Drawing on her training as a Community Health Volunteer for MAMaZ Against Malaria (MAM), she called her co-volunteers.
Using a rectal artesunate suppository, they started his pre-treatment and then, on a bicycle ambulance, took him from Mupula village in Zambia to the local health centre, 35km along a rocky dirt track. By the time they arrived, her son was already showing signs of recovery. The health centre gave him an injectable form of the artesunate, in line with the recommended national treatment guidelines and within days he was well again.
The MAM project in collaboration with the National Malaria Elimination Centre (NMEC) and the Serenje District Health Management Team trains volunteers like Rabbecca to educate their own communities and headmen about the signs of severe malaria and how to respond, as well as providing the medication and bicycle ambulances needed to reach professional medical help.
Sitting on a reed mat in a communal hut, with chickens scratching around her feet, Rabbecca describes her role. ‘I save lives,’ she says simply. ‘I might be working in the field or cooking food, but if there’s an emergency, I leave.’ If the child has suspected severe malaria, Rabbecca gives them the suppository and then takes them to the health centre on the bicycle ambulance.
It wasn’t always like this. Travelling the long road on foot carrying a sick child could take the best part of a day. Giving the child an initial intervention in the community buys the child more time. It is this, combined with the shorter journey time, that makes all the difference. By the time they reach the health facility, many children are already showing signs of recovery.
In just a three month period, ‘there are now six children in the community who are alive and who wouldn’t have been,’ says Rabbecca. In fact, since the start of the project in July 2017, not one child in Mupula has been lost to malaria. Local families have quickly developed confidence in the new system, with any initial doubts quickly abating once they saw children making speedy recoveries.
Rabbecca’s passion is clear, but her motivation comes from a deep understanding of the pain of losing a child. Eight years earlier, she and her husband wearily made the same journey on foot: 35km along the dirt track, their child in their arms. ‘By the time we eventually reached the health centre, the symptoms were too serious to treat locally,’ says Rabbecca. ‘They sent us to the district hospital, but it was too late. That’s where our child died.’
The symptoms – diarrhoea and vomiting – were classic signs of severe malaria, but Rabbecca didn’t find that out till she started the training. She says: ‘The project has saved one of my children – if it had started earlier, my other child would have survived too.’
Now, the future seems brighter – not just for Rabbecca’s family, but for the whole community. ‘Before, we were always worried about people being sick and not being able to reach healthcare,’ she says. ‘Now, we don’t need to worry. Whatever the time, day or night, we can always get the help we need. That’s the thing that makes everyone happy.’
MAMaZ Against Malaria is delivered by a consortium of partners – Transaid, Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), Development Data, Disacare and Health Partners Zambia working in partnership with the District Health Management Team and the National Malaria Elimination Centre.