Before she fell ill, Kibichwa was one of the top students in her tenth-grade class. Then the fever and headaches began and her condition deteriorated from there. Kibichwa’s parents, along with many extended family members in their remote Tanzanian village, believed she had been bewitched. They sought out several traditional doctors, or shamans, to cure her.
But Kibichwa had not been bewitched. She was suffering from malaria. With her life hanging in the balance, a family friend convinced Kibichwa’s parents to take her to the local hospital. The doctors quickly diagnosed her condition and began treating her for advanced malaria. Kibichwa ultimately recovered.
Kibichwa and her parents are not real people. They are characters in a play created to increase awareness about malaria in Tanzania. The play was performed in 33 high schools in Tanzania’s Lake Zone region earlier this year, and is part of a broad initiative to combat malaria sponsored by African Barrick Gold (ABG).
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease. It kills an estimated 60,000-80,000 people in Tanzania annually, with 80 percent of those deaths occurring among children under five. Approximately 14 to 18 million clinical malaria cases are reported annually by public health services in Tanzania, and more than 40 percent of all outpatient visits are attributed to the disease.
In addition to supporting the school play, ABG is funding a program aimed at increasing the use of malaria control tools by broadcasting nightly reminders nationwide on radio and television. The program is called NightWatch and the reminder message may be as simple as, “It’s 9 p.m., are you and your family sleeping under your mosquito nets?” The messages will be delivered by respected public figures, such as Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, and other local celebrities.
In the Lake Zone region, which is home to all four of ABG’s mines, a full-fledged radio program devoted to malaria prevention is in the works. Details of the program are still being finalized, but it is expected to feature a call-in segment so people can share their thoughts and experiences with the disease. All told, ABG is spending $100,000 on the Public Service Announcement and upcoming radio program. Its partner in the initiative is Malaria No More, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to ending malaria deaths in Africa by 2015.
The school play in the Lake Zone high schools was performed by Tanzania House of Talent (THT), a local NGO that provides training and employment opportunities in the entertainment industry to disadvantaged youth. Using a play to educate students about malaria increases the likelihood they will retain the information and share it, says Stephen Kisakye, Community Relations Manager at ABG. “Youth can be community ambassadors and inspire change.”
ABG contributed $96,000 towards the initiative, called Zinduka, which means “wake up” in Swahili. The play was just one aspect of the program. After the performance, students were divided into smaller groups to discuss the play and malaria prevention. The discussion reinforced key messages about treatment and prevention, such as maintaining environmental cleanliness, using mosquito nets and spray to reduce risk of infection, getting tested at a local clinic or hospital at the first sign of symptoms and taking the full dosage of medications prescribed to treat the disease.
Following the performance, each school formed a Zinduka club that organized activities to educate students and the broader community about malaria. Some schools held singing or writing competitions with malaria prevention themes, while others created calendars or post cards. THT provided ongoing support for these activities, as well as incentives by arranging for local Tanzanian celebrities to visit schools whose activities stood out. “That’s a big deal,” says Kemilembe Mbeikya, Development Officer at THT. “It helps us stay hip and cool and motivates students to spread the message about malaria prevention.”
ABG recently renewed the THT program and is eyeing ways to extend it. One idea under consideration is to have the Zinduka clubs create their own plays to present in local primary schools. “We want to build on the momentum we have established,” Kisakye says. “One way to do that is to have the older students teach the younger children the same lessons.”