Malaria prevention in the villages of Miirya

Malaria is the world's biggest killer: someone dies of it every 30 seconds. In Uganda many people living in rural villages can't afford to pay for transport to get to hospital, so they don't get drugs and they die. That's why the work VSO nurse Pam Llewellyn is doing in Miirya sub-county is so vital: she is training village volunteers in malaria prevention so that they can help their communities to combat the disease. 

It's a scorching June afternoon in a rural village in Miirya sub-county, Uganda. In the cool shade of a tree, VSO nurse Pam Llewellyn uses brightly illustrated posters and the help of Sally, her colleague and translator, to train village health volunteers in malaria infection and prevention.

How we catch malaria...

"Mrs Anopheles, the female mosquito, bites you at night-time when you are sleeping and transfers the malaria parasite into your body," explains Pam, with Sally translating as they hold their first poster aloft.  "She comes to make a meal to feed her eggs."

The second poster features a cartoon of the malaria parasite making its way to the liver; in poster three it is busy reproducing itself. And so the session goes on. It ends with poster seven, which stresses the life-saving difference sleeping under an insecticide treated mosquito net can make.

...and how we can prevent it

Next there's a practical demonstration of how to hang up a net. The afternoon's training ends with everyone standing up to sing The Malaria Song: the verses describe the symptoms and the chorus is another reminder to sleep under a net. 

Stephen is one of the volunteers Pam has been training. Before he met her, he and his family hated sleeping under mosquito nets because they were too restrictive and claustrophobic on hot nights. But the consequences were serious – and expensive.

"I was having a lot of problems with my family, a lot of malaria, and there were a lot of expenses as I was having to transport my family to hospital," remembers Stephen.  "But with Pam's education and being told how important it is, now we won't sleep without nets! And we have no more malaria."

100 volunteers spread the word in rural villages

Newly equipped with expertise in preventing malaria, Pam's volunteers – nearly 100 of them, distinctive in their blue t-shirts – will return to their villages and promote the use of insecticide treated mosquito nets. They'll show their communities how to tuck their nets tightly under their sleeping mats and how to tie them up during the day so that they don't get ripped. The volunteer will warn their communities against washing their nets too often so as not to dilute the insecticide.

Some families in the village will tell the volunteers that they can't afford nets. They usually cost around £3, so are beyond the reach of the average Ugandan. But the volunteers will happily contradict them. With the help of friends and family back in the UK, Pam and fellow VSO volunteer Dr Chris Jary have raised enough money to buy thousands of nets. They then sell them at the subsidised price of £1. Selling the nets is better than giving them away because people value them more and will look after them. The money is invested into the project to buy more nets.

Miirya beats malaria

Nearly 5,000 nets have been distributed so far. That means thousands of lives have been saved. And the word is out: nets are now in demand. "The thing I’m most proud of is that we’re no longer having to persuade people to buy nets," says Pam. "People in Miirya are asking for them – they understand their value and they want them. That is a lovely feeling."

Take a look at our gallery of Pam's work in Uganda

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