Thursday, July 26, 2018

Nets Are Not the Only Answer

by Tigaiza Arnold and Clare Killian, Interns, Ituba A Village

Arnold and Clare with Mr. Kintu Sam, his mother, and his wife
She welcomed us into her humble home with a sweet and soft “Tusangaire!” (you are welcome) and we sat down on the couches. The survey went smoothly, and as we conversed with her, a middle aged man, who we later discovered was her son, was seated adjacent to us. Throughout the duration of the survey, we thought the man was resting, not paying attention to the activity happening nearby. Little did we know, not only was he paying attention, but he would end up sparking a conversation emphasizing malaria and its detrimental impact on the people he loves dearly. The impact of this conversation would last much longer than the time they spent in this man’s company.

When we completed the survey and thanked the woman, the man immediately cleared his throat, sat up, and addressed us somewhat aggressively at first, asking our names again. We answered quietly with a smile, unsure of what this man was going to say. He then launched into a conversation, almost a lecture, about the complex issue of malaria prevention. According to him, the long-standing prevention methods focused on manufacturing and providing mosquito nets is absolutely crucial and important, but is only a secondary and incomplete line of prevention. Nets alone will not eliminate mosquitos and malaria.  Nets alone will not prevent people from getting bit by malaria-carrying mosquitos; the majority of life in Ugandan culture is lived outside and sleeping is one of the only indoor activities.

Mosquitos are most prevalent from dusk until dawn, but almost no one goes to bed before dusk and stays in bed until after dawn, especially in village communities. “These people are vulnerable when they are not sleeping, and that time period has not been accounted for in malaria prevention efforts.” he said. He discussed how malaria prevention must account for all the different lifestyles lived by people affected by mosquitos every single day. Communities deserve individualistic and culturally relative approaches to preventing this disease, something that large, governmentally funded organizations and efforts tend to lack. His passion for this issue was contagious and very evident. He expressed his disbelief about how this debate has been going on for years in the academic and political community, but almost nothing has been done in the field other than education and mass distribution of mosquito nets.
Arnold and Clare with Mr. Kintu Sam
We intently listened to him, agreeing wholeheartedly with his statements. Unable to give answers to his important questions and opinions, we struggled internally with this, feeling helpless in that moment. We assured him that they would share his story, continue the conversation, and work within their capacity to further the progress on malaria.

Weeks later, with our previous discussion with him still nagging in our thoughts, we decided to go return to this man and talk to him more. When they arrived at his home again, he was joyous to see them, welcoming them feverishly, and eagerly sharing more information regarding his life and opinions. Once again we enjoyed an engaging conversation with him. The time spent at this man’s home with him and his family was wonderful, a new relationship blossoming between us.  

People, such as this man, can change the world. We were so fortunate to meet him, hold an unforgettable conversation, and continue to foster our undeniable conviction that every individual human life matters. Every life changed is significant and people are not solely statistics, not only numbers in a global epidemic. People are individuals and deserve to be treated as such. You never know what impact you could have.

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