By Tichaona Jongwe. Photos courtesy of Role Model Caregivers.
In Niger state, malaria is so endemic that, on World Malaria Day in 2016, State Commissioner of Health Dr. Jibril Mustapha revealed that the disease kills 19,500 children under the age of 5 in the state every year. But a small group of unpaid heroes is working to become a vanguard against the disease’s spread.
The group, called Role Model Caregivers (RMC), are paid nothing but a small transport stipend. Together, they watch over the sick and monitor patients’ adherence to lifesaving nets and medicines.
One of the caregivers is Haraja Sule. “The role of the Malaria Role Model Caregiver is to liaison treatment between clinics and the sick in communities. ‘Bring malaria medicine next to home’ is our motto,” she says. “Clinics retain our services and deploy us daily into homes.”
Funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, The Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH) has trained 500 RMC’s across 25 districts in the state. ARFH collaborates with local Community Services Organizations to provide supportive supervision to caregivers like Hajara Sule and other RMCs in Niger state communities.
“I am mainly deployed to distribute medicine, encourage blood tests for malaria, and record fever symptoms of children under the age of 5. Those are the most vulnerable,” she says.
In the last six years, Hajara has administered malaria treatment to 340 children. But when it comes to pregnant women and adults with malaria, her role shifts.
“These are complex cases,” she says. “I forward them to a clinic for antenatal care and blood tests.”
“With pregnant women, I’m focused on the issue of LLIN – or Long Lasting Insecticidal-Treated Nets, which are the most effective kind of bed net available. I teach pregnant mothers how to spread and construct their nets over beds at night to prevent mosquito bites.”
According to a 2013 demographic survey performed by the National Association of Nigeria Pediatrics Nurses, only 14 percent of pregnant women and only 10 percent of children slept under an LLIN, increasing their risk of malaria substantially.
In fact, Hajara has observed a disturbing trend in some districts of her community: “Poor, hungry fisherman misuse donated malaria mosquito nets as nets to poison and catch fish on lakes.”
Her dismay is echoed by Dr. Laz Ude Eze, a public health physician who traveled the region as part of the #Talkhealth9ja radio program. “The Malaria mosquito nets say, ‘Don’t wash or pour in water,’ but ornamental fish merchants, women, children, and the aged can’t afford to buy fishing boats,” he says. “What do they do? They use mosquito nets to scoop fish.”
“Hundreds of kids who don’t attend school spend the day drying fish on poisonous malaria mosquito nets,” he adds, “and later sell them at bus terminals and police checkpoints.”
That’s just one more reason that Haraja is committed to her monthly rotation as a caregiver. And her husband — who works as a school teacher — is very supportive.
“He cooks for our children when I am out preaching to communities of the need to destroy stagnant water and kill malaria breeding grounds,” she says.
“Yes, there is no money in doing this,” she says, “but many women and girls admire me and want to challenge malaria, too. My patients – my clients – are free to seek my help, even at 1 a.m. This is my prize and satisfaction.”
Tichaona Jongwe is assistant editor at Women Taboos Radio and a freelancer for Rural Reporters Africa. He is in Nigeria as a media fellow of the Reporting Livelihood grant.