A “Malaria Smart School”
Using song, dance, and art at Uganda’s Walyoba Primary School to keep kids in school and malaria out of homes
Despite being entirely preventable, malaria is a leading cause of sickness and death across much of sub-Saharan Africa. The disease, transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito, keeps kids out of school and their families stuck in a cycle of poverty.
That’s why Fredrick Muhumuza, chairperson of the Walyoba Primary School Management Committee, jumped at the opportunity for his school to participate in a malaria education and prevention program supported by the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI).
“Malaria leads to poor student performance,” he says. “For a better Masindi District and a better Uganda we must fight it today.”
At Walyoba Primary School, a “Malaria Smart School” in western Uganda, students and teachers are approaching the disease head-on through song, dance, and art with some help from the PMI Malaria Action Program for Districts (MAPD) project.
In every classroom, you’ll find a malaria corner, filled with student-drawn information about the disease, causes, and prevention methods like emptying water containers that mosquitoes breed in, trimming brush around their homes, and sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net (ITN).
Hanging an insecticide-treated mosquito net over a sleeping space and sleeping under the net each night is a low-cost, effective malaria prevention method that protects women, children, and families from the bite of mosquitoes carrying the parasite that causes malaria.
As a part of the project, all students in grades 1 and 4 receive a free ITN, which can remain effective for up to three years. High ownership and use of these nets reduces the incidence of uncomplicated malaria episodes by 50 percent and all-cause mortality in children under five by about 20 percent.
ITNs that are distributed at schools like Walyoba Primary School and in health facilities ensure that the most vulnerable populations — pregnant women and children — are covered. However, nets must be used consistently and correctly to protect from malaria. Parents and caregivers who do not use nets consistently have said that it was too hot, too difficult to hang, or there were no mosquitoes in their homes.
Luckily, school children have proven themselves powerful change agents when it comes to malaria prevention, which is why the PMI MAPD project looked for a way to take the students malaria education out of the classroom and into the community.
The project coordinated with local health educators and school leadership to organize a school health club that aimed to increase malaria awareness in the school and beyond.
The school’s headmaster, Byoona Ntairaho, who specializes in using music to foster learning and has been working as the district’s music instructor for nearly 20 years, was instrumental in getting the project off the ground.
He, alongside the club advisor Rebecca Ijja-Okole, worked with participants to compose unique songs, poems, and dances aligned to key malaria action messages to effectively educate their peers and community members about the dangers of malaria.
The club’s 40 student members, ranging in age from 6 to 15, have performed at school assemblies, parent meetings, and the local market. But they’re not stopping there. The project utilizes a peer-to-peer approach where “Malaria Smart Schools” help other nearby schools set-up their own health clubs. By October 2019, PMI MAPD expects to have at least 320 school health clubs operating throughout the country.
Through these health clubs and the lessons learned at school, these children are encouraging seemingly small, yet powerful actions in the fight against malaria — both in their homes and communities — that will help pave the way towards a malaria-free world.
To find out more about PMI’s work in Uganda and beyond read our 13th Annual Report to Congress, which will be launched tomorrow.
About the Author
Caitlin Christman is a Technical Advisor with the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative in USAID’s Bureau for Global Health. She is a visual communications expert focused on crafting user-centric products that integrate strategy, service design, and UX/UI.
The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) supports 24 partner countries in sub-Saharan Africa and three programs in the Greater Mekong Subregion in Southeast Asia to control and eliminate malaria. Led by USAID and implemented together with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PMI delivers cost-effective, lifesaving malaria interventions — such as insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying, and essential medicines — alongside catalytic technical and operational assistance that equips and empowers partner countries to end malaria.