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Letter from Uganda: Menace of malaria still threatens Africans

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by the Rev. Larry Hollon

Humble Place United Methodist School in central Uganda serves children in grades one through six and includes an orphanage.
Jan. 23, 2006


By the Rev. Larry Hollon*

KAMPALA, Uganda (UMNS) — The rains have come to central Uganda. This is good.

But it also means the menace of malaria will return as well. This is the experience of Rossette Kemigish, school nurse at the United Methodist-related orphanage and primary school known as Humble Place in Mukono District, about 30 kilometers outside Kampala.

Last year, she treated 279 children for malaria in a school with fewer than 200 students. It’s a persistent challenge to stay ahead of the mosquito-borne disease in this humid, wet climate.

She explains that the school administrators are attentive to her suggestions for environmental improvements that minimize the opportunity for mosquitoes to breed in standing water or the rain catchment tanks the school uses to supplement its water supply.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by the Rev. Larry Hollon

The Rev. Robert Ssajjabi is the founder of Humble Place United Methodist School.
When she saw standing pools around faucets where children wash their dishes, she advised school administrators to provide better drainage. They did. When she discovered the fittings for the rain catchment tank had spaces that allowed mosquitoes entry points to the water, the school officials sealed the fittings.

On a larger scale, the Rev. Robert Ssajjabi, founder of the school, tells visitors how wetlands in the low-lying area owned by the church were major breeding grounds for mosquitoes and required more substantial change. A stream runs through the area and adjacent soil was being dug by local brick makers to make bricks, leaving deep pits that collected water. The bricks were formed and fired in tall stacks next to the pits.

When the church bought the property, Rev. Ssajjabi said the area was live with mosquitoes. He hired workers to drain the pits and eventually leveled the ground so it drains to the stream. He also constructed two fish ponds stocked with tilapia and catfish. The fish eat the mosquito larvae, creating a natural preventative. Today, it’s possible to stand on the banks of the pond and never see a mosquito.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by the Rev. Larry Hollon

Rossette Kemigish, the nurse at Humble Place School, treated 279 children for malaria last year.
These and other small but very important changes can make a big difference, Kemigish says. For example, the children are encouraged to wear long trousers and long-sleeve shirts when they play outside.

She teaches parent education classes on how to water gardens and trees to avoid standing water. She explains that tin cans and other debris provide breeding places. Areas around homes must be kept clean. She encourages children to stay away from the nearby stream and, most importantly, she encourages the whole family to sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets.

She has become an expert of sorts on malaria. She explains the categories of symptoms and the various levels of treatment required for individuals at particular stages of the disease. While fever and nausea are common to all, malaria manifests itself slightly differently among people of different ages. Kemigish knows each and keeps a watchful eye on the children in school, and she takes preventive measures when they go home to their families.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by the Rev. Larry Hollon

Classrooms, a health clinic and staff offices are housed in this building at Humble Place School.
Malaria is so common in the country that the Uganda Ministry of Health’s Clinical Guidelines tells health workers to assume that a person in a malaria-infested area displaying symptoms has the condition and to treat them with appropriate prophylaxis until proven otherwise.

For more complicated symptoms, the commission recommends blood tests, but it’s important to get medication started as soon as symptoms appear to prevent the progression of the disease, which the World Health Organization says results in the death of a child every 30 seconds worldwide.

Kemigish has prepared for the return of children from the holiday break by laying in sufficient medical supplies for treating the condition. She knows that the rains have come, and so will malaria.

* * *

Editor’s note: A special fund for the United Methodist Community Based Malaria Prevention Program has been established with the denomination’s Advance for Christ and His Church, a “second-mile” voluntary giving program. The Advance Special offers a way for United Methodists to participate in the malaria program as individuals or through local churches, districts and conferences. As a mission project, the program touches upon issues of health care, poverty and the needs of children.

Donations, payable to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, should be designated to Advance No. 982009, “Malaria Control.” Checks can be dropped in church collection plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit-card gifts can be made by calling (800) 554-8583 or going online to www.umc.org.

*Hollon is chief executive of United Methodist Communications. This commentary, taken from Hollon’s personal blog, also has been posted by TIME magazine on its global health blog.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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