Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fighting Malaria: Stomp Guinea Starting Strong!

It's been a while since I've given an update on my work in Guinea as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, so this blog is due for a post on what I'm doing here with the Stomping out Malaria in Africa initiative! It's been a fascinating journey so far learning about the Guinean health system, the malaria prevalence in country, the particular challenges the government/NGOs/citizens face and what international partners are doing to fight the disease here. As I continue to update this blog over the coming months and as we scale up our malaria prevention activities La Guinée, this brief summary of my work will be greatly expanded upon, so stay tuned!

A question I frequently field from volunteers is "So, what do you do all day?" This question reflects the observation that the structure of my job (I am in an office all day, dress formally, and am always running around to meetings) is different from what most Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) do. As I get to know volunteers better they begin to understand what I do on a much more personal level as I help empower them to reduce malaria in their communities.

Although it feels like there are always a million different tasks at hand, I think of my work as split up into three main responsibilities. The first is supporting PCVs and making sure they have the knowledge and access to resources they need to do malaria projects in their communities. Second is building up the malaria initiative here at Peace Corps Guinea, which requires educating staff members about the importance of our contribution to the Africa-wide malaria initiative and advocating for time and funding for our trainings and projects. Finally, I work closely with partner organizations to stay updated on the malaria prevention efforts going on across Guinea and establish how we can productively support them (complementing their efforts instead of duplicating them). Our partners include a long list of local and international NGOs, as well as the Guinean government and the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI).

An example of some developments with our partners, hot off the presses in this case, is that funding from the Global Fund for a bed net distribution campaign early next year (spearheaded by Catholic Relief Services) has finally come through! This is a huge relief for the malaria prevention community since the funding had been on hold for months due to management concerns. The news means that the ball will finally get rolling on the planning of the distribution campaign, which Peace Corps Guinea will hopes to be involved in.

Going back over to the American embassy and PMI, the latest news is that within the next week PMI will have completed the fiscal year 2013 Guinea Malaria Operational Plan (MOP). The MOP is a major undertaking and a central document used by many partners/stakeholders. According to the PMI website, MOPs
... [P]resent a detailed one-year implementation plan for the President's Malaria Initiative in each designated country. It briefly reviews the current status of malaria control and prevention policies and interventions, identifies challenges and unmet needs if the goals of the PMI are to be achieved, and provides a description of planned activities under the PMI. These Malaria Operational Plans have been endorsed by the U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator and reflect collaborative discussions with the national malaria control programs and partners in country.
In many countries (such as Guinea) the MOP is one of the most authoritative documents on the current malaria situation. It has been an honor to be involved in the effort with the joint PMI/USAID/CDC team to produce this resource!

This is a lot for one Malaria Program Coordinator (my position title) to be involved in, and often there is only barely enough time to get everything done. However, I enjoy every minute of it! The challenges of working in the Guinean context keep me on my toes and I am constantly working across different cultures. I am also encouraged and inspired by the boundless good of the work PCVs are doing in their communities, making them some of my favorite people to work/spend time with. As I have mentioned previously, it is also fascinating to closely follow the planning and budgeting of the resources our partners distribute for malaria prevention in Guinea.
In working with volunteers (and even volunteer trainees!) I've been thrilled to discover that Guinea PCVs have great enthusiasm for going beyond their normal projects to work on reducing malaria in their communities. Much of this motivation stems from the visual reminders of the malaria burden which they see on a daily basis - empty desks, fields and pockets. However, even if the disease did not have such a visible impact, volunteers are always looking for additional ways to support their communities, which is particularly easy with malaria since the interventions favored in Guinea are relatively cheap and easy. Education is the main tools we use as volunteers to encourage communities to protect themselves, and after months/years in our communities, community education is something we are well-versed at doing.

To read a little bit more about what we've been up to, check out the latest post I've written for our official blog over on the Stomping out Malaria in Africa website, which features a number of our current volunteers. More exciting posts with in-depth accounts of their projects will be posted soon, and I'll link to them here as well. There are even more details about our activities in this document which is an update for our partners on the work we have accomplished over the past two months!

Happy reading, and keep Stomping out Malaria!