Malawi had nearly seven million malaria cases last year, more than a third of the population, with 2 500 lives lost to the mosquito-borne disease.
However, one village has become a model for how to eradicate malaria and in June was honoured as the first ever to have zero malaria cases for a whole year.
Margret Kachere, a resident of Mwikala Village in Machinga district, recounted a day in 2009 when her family of five children was about to lose its second-born child to malaria.
“That day, her body was too hot, and she would often faint,” she said. “I took her to a traditional healer, but it did not help. It was so terrible that one could not sleep. This forced me to take her to hospital the following day, where she got help after [being] diagnosed with malaria.”
Kachere’s family members are among thousands in Mwikala who have long been affected by malaria, largely because of beliefs and misconceptions about the use of mosquito nets as a preventive measure.
“We believed that if one sleeps under a mosquito net they would suffer from loss of libido,” Kachere said. “And also that if one sleeps under the bednet, he or she would die soon because the bednet symbolises a coffin. So, we were afraid to sleep under the mosquito net.”
But the community-driven anti-malaria campaign, which started in 2016, has changed that.
Now, Mwikala, home to more than 12 000 people, has become a model village for combating malaria.
In June this year, President Lazarus Chakwera honoured the village head for reducing malaria infection and for recording zero cases since 2017.
He spoke during the launch of the nationwide anti-malaria campaign in Machinga district.
“What this village has done has given me hope that if everyone follows what they do, the campaign to make Malawi free from malaria is possible,” Chakwera said.
Malaria is the top killer disease in the country and accounts for 36 percent of all hospital outpatients and 15 percent of hospital admissions.
Last year alone, malaria killed 2 500 people in Malawi, more than any other disease, including Covid-19.
The village’s owes its award to a group of community volunteers who taught the villagers about malaria prevention.
Their activities include drama, community health talks and door-to-door campaigns. This has forced people from surrounding villages to learn about the measures.
Additionally, the village chief augmented the campaign by creating laws requiring villagers to use mosquito nets.
“I have introduced the bylaws to prevent people from abusing mosquito nets,” said Yasin Mustapha, a senior chief for Mwikala Village. “Some people would sell the free mosquito nets to fishers. So, anyone disobeying the bylaws would pay a fine of K5 000. I use the money to buy a mosquito net and give it to those who don’t have one.”
The success has inspired Mwikala community volunteers, who say that funds permitting, they will take their anti-malaria campaign to nearby villages or beyond.