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Liberian tackles malaria prevention with passion


Allen Zomonway is the project manager for the Child Survival Project at United Methodist-supported Ganta Hospital in Liberia. UMNS photos by Karen A. Cheng.

A UMNS Report
By Jody Madala and Karen A. Cheng*

April 15, 2009

Allen Zomonway tackles the problems of malaria and other community health needs with passion.

As the project manager for the Child Survival Project at Ganta United Methodist Hospital in Liberia, Zomonway is committed to helping improve community health through malaria education and other life-saving programs.

His drive to serve the Ganta community was ignited after he was displaced during Liberia's 14-year civil war. He came of age during those years of struggle, which interrupted his plans for a medical career. He spent months in hiding, at one time taking on an assumed identity to protect himself from soldiers who would have killed him because of his ethnic Mano roots.

Beginning and ending at Ganta

Zomonway arrived at the Ganta United Methodist Hospital campus in 1986 as a nursing student, and after graduating in 1988 went to work at the Consolata Clinic in Tappita, assessing patients during intake.

When rebels attacked the area on March 29, 1990, Zomonway fled, walking through miles of thick bush for almost a week.

Despite the war, Zomonway returned to Ganta in September 1991 and began serving as assistant supervisor of the primary health care program, which served nearby villages.

As the war escalated and security risks increased, the PHC team could no longer leave the hospital compound to serve the Ganta community. By October 1994, the conflict escalated to such a point that Ganta Hospital had to close its doors.

Zomonway found himself fleeing from violence once again, but he kept his focus on serving people. An opportunity to return home came in 1998, when he received a call from Victor Taryor, a fellow-nursing classmate who needed his assistance in rebuilding the hospital’s capacity.

By this time, Ganta Hospital was re-establishing its community-based health program. The same energy that drove him to persevere during the war was now needed to build up Ganta Hospital's community-based health care programs.

Malaria education and prevention

Part of his vision was Ganta Hospital's Malaria Program, which began in 1999. The community lacked basic information about malaria, and myths surrounding the disease were rampant.

Through the outreach of the immunization program, Zomonway and his team took the opportunity to teach what they could about malaria prevention to the surrounding communities.


After 14 years of civil war, Ganta Hospital is rebuilding into one of Liberia’s top teaching and in-patient health facilities.
   

Though mosquito nets were not available, they taught the community how to cut down the thick bush and elevated grass, and burn cano seeds from the local palm tree fruit to create smoke that acts as a natural mosquito repellent. The community learned how to use nyanaleh, a sandpaper-type substance to make swatters and to close windows by 6 p.m. The people were also told to move dumping sites away from their homes and clean out areas of stagnant water.

Preventive care was the key to combating malaria, so every focus group discussion included these techniques. Over time, the effort paid off, according to Zomonway. "People are clearly much more knowledgeable. They can even tell you that it's the female mosquito that causes all the trouble."

Net value

Today, Ganta Hospital's Malaria Outreach Program also highlights the proper use of mosquito nets. Over time and with repeated discussion, the mosquito net becomes a "must have" item. Now individuals even sew their own nets out of used clothing.

"This is just the beginning," Zomonway said. "We want to continue to build capacity. We started with limited education (about malaria) ourselves, but as we trained and learned, we are now ready to lead others and show them the way. We know our focus and have initiated our own process (here at Ganta Hospital). Prevention first, not just treatment after. We are seeing that process starting to work with more discussions about the facts of malaria, not myths."

Zomonway's team empowers Ganta communities with knowledge and will soon distribute nets to communities that clearly understand the value.

‘I want to do more’

By 2004, peace finally spread across Liberia. After the long arduous road that Zomonway has traveled, has he changed?

He thought about this for a moment before answering in his rapid-fire, Mano-influenced English. "Before, I worked just to get paid," he said. "Now I have more ownership and feeling in what I do. And I want to do more. We ask ourselves every day, ‘Why are we doing these things?’"

In these more peaceful times, Zomonway continues to work for the success of Ganta Hospital's community health programs.

Ganta United Methodist Hospital is working to restore its infrastructure and revive its health care facilities following Liberia’s civil war. Donations can be made to Hospital Revitalization, UMCOR Advance #982168 and placed in church offering plates or sent to Advance GCFA P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (888) 252-6174

Donations also can be made in the same way to support Community-Based Malaria Control, UMCOR Advance #982009, which helps fund the malaria program at Ganta Hospital and other programs throughout Africa.

*Madala and Cheng are UMCOR Health consultants

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

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United Methodists in Liberia take aim at poverty

African bishops discuss health needs

Resources

UMCOR-Ganta

Net Gain Against Malaria

Global Health Initiative

Liberia

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