Senegalese superstars, Viviane and Pape Diouf, took to the stage last night to celebrate their country’s success in the fight against malaria. The crowd went wild as Viviane pulled ministers and health officials to the stage in a reprise of Senegal’s malaria anthem.
Senegalese take action into their own hands. Last night the audience celebrated the leadership of one community in particular. In Thienaba, a village leader named El Hadj Diop mobilized a grassroots movement in response to the loss of his 12 year old daughter to malaria in 1999.
Now, Mr. Diop’s grassroots movement covers 73 neighboring villages and ensures that each home has appropriate mosquito nets and access to treatment. Fundamentally, though, Mr Diop and his fellow village leaders go house to house to ensure that each child actually sleeps under mosquito nets. They go so far as to levy taxes on those parents who fail to place their young children under mosquito nets each night. Thanks to these efforts, there has not been a single death due to malaria in any of these 73 villages since 2009.
Viviane, Pape Diouf and Senegal have much to celebrate. In marked contrast to 5 years ago, today most Senegalese children survive to see their fifth birthday. Ten years ago, more than 400,000 children would have died before they turned five.
Success like this does not come easily. Charismatic Health Minister Awa Marie Coll-Seck believes that success against malaria occurs only through participation from every part of society. Senegal’s success seems to be due to its recognition that the fight is a hometown one—requiring mobilization of leadership from every corner of Senegal and beginning in its smallest communities. Government leadership is required to mobilize financing for malaria prevention, diagnostic and treatment tools. As fundamental as is this leadership and financing, success is not possible without strong local action.
The Senegalese government pioneered the use of community-based volunteers in the malaria fight. In a program called PECADOM, locally elected volunteers in the smallest, most remote communities can be called upon by mothers with babies suffering from fever. These volunteers are equipped with the tools to diagnose and then to treat malaria and to provide appropriate solutions for pneumonia and diarrhea as well. Senegalese health authorities credit this localized community action with dramatic progress against child mortality.
Seneaglese superstars like Youssou Ndour (now Senegal’s Minister of Tourism), Viviane and Pape Diouf, religious leaders like the brotherhoods of Mourides, Tidjanes and Layenes, wrestlers like Modou Lo, Eumeu Sene and Yekini, football icons like Moussa Sow are taking this notion of community responsibility to the next level. They are each using their celebrity, media and popular platforms to catalyze individual and government action. In partnership with media companies, these celebrities speak out regularly about malaria on popular tv and radio stations.
Private sector players like Total, Sanofi-Aventis, Sonatel, Pfizer and Tigo are lending their considerable heft and resources to the fight. They each have recognized that investment in Senegal’s child health is investment in Senegal’s markets and its future. As they do so, their actions continue to catalyze momentum against malaria.
*Speak Up Africa is a Dakar based non-profit dedicated to ending deaths from the three leading causes of death among African’s children: malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea.