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School children check that a large water container behind a home in Campina Grande, Brazil is clean and adequately covered to help prevent the breeding and spread of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. The mosquito carries the Zika virus, dengue and other diseases. These children are key players in a vector control social mobilization effort to quickly share important Zika prevention information to all homes in the city.
by Kent Page
Controlling the spread of the Zika virus is an urgent challenge throughout Brazil and in many areas of Latin America and the Caribbean. When the city of Campina Grande was figuring out how to stop the proliferation of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the main vector of the virus, they found an answer in the local schools.
CAMPINA GRANDE, Paraíba State, Brazil, 18 August 2016 – “I told him that I thought I might have a solution,” says Iolanda Barbosa, Secretary of Education in Campina Grande, the capital city of Paraíba State in north-east Brazil.
Campina Grande was facing an urgent challenge to control the proliferation of the Aedes aegypti, a mosquito infecting people with the Zika virus, as well as dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. Manpower was limited, budgets were tight, and there was no time to waste. How to reach 100,000 households in the city quickly with the information they need to combat the spread of the mosquito?
“We have 20,000 pupils in Campina Grande’s 120 municipal schools,” continues Ms. Barbosa. “We needed to teach them how to prevent the spread of mosquitoes, avoid contracting the Zika virus and dengue, and recognize symptoms of these diseases. We thought they could perform an important community service.” If every student visited just five houses each in their neighbourhood, they could reach 100,000 families quickly.
Lessons in prevention
Preventing the spread of the Aedes aegypti mosquito and avoiding being bitten is so important in Campina Grande that it is now part of the integrated school curriculum.
Dressed in black as a mosquito, with a large silver stinger covering her face, 7-year old Monique and her friend Rian, 4, dressed as a health agent, have just performed a skit in front of more than 100 students at their school in Campina Grande, Paraiba State, Brazil. Weekly assemblies along with Zika virus prevention lessons are key to preventing the breeding and spread of the Aedes aegypti mosquito in the area.
“In music class, children learn traditional Brazilian songs with lyrics changed to singing about the dangers of mosquitoes,” says Ana Maria Pereira da Silva, Principal of the Maria das Vitórias Municipal School in the impoverished Bairro das Cidades on Campina Grande’s outskirts. “In science class, they learn to make a traditional, inexpensive mosquito repellent from lemon, rubbing alcohol, cloves and oil. In art class they draw and colour mosquitoes and ways of preventing them from breeding.”
The classes began taking place, along with weekly school assemblies in which local health agents and doctors speak with children about the danger of mosquitoes. The children also perform skits with some dressed up as mosquitoes and others as health agents, and sing songs, watch videos and answer quizzes about how to prevent mosquitoes from breeding and not be bitten.
Seven-year-old Monique is dressed as a mosquito, wearing all black with wings on her back and a large silver stinger covering her face. She had just performed a skit in front of some 100 students in her weekly general assembly. “Xô Zika!” she shouts, which translates to ‘Get lost, Zika!’
Spreading the word to stop the virus
Knocking on the doors of their neighbours is not only an important community service, but also an excellent learning experience for the children; it’s a chance for them to teach adults in the neighbourhood, as well as their parents and family members what they have learned at school.
Today, accompanied by an adult chaperone, four of the children are visiting homes near their school. Carrying informational pamphlets and stickers, they call out ‘Ola!’ at the door of one of the small homes. Ms. Edinália Pereira comes to the door and smiles when she sees the children.
“Can we talk to you about preventing mosquitoes from breeding in your home?” says 11-year-old Miguel. “We also want to come in to see if you’re doing all the things you need to do to make sure that we get rid of Aedes from our neighbourhood.”
“Yes, of course,” says Edinália. “What do I need to know?”
Diverse Zika virus prevention lessons, including posters, theater, songs and quizzes, are integrated into school curricula in Campina Grande. Children are also key players in a vector control social mobilization effort, helping to share Zika prevention information to homes throughout the city. The children’s poster says, “Did you know that a single mosquito can bite 300 people and lay 450 eggs in its short, 45-day life. It needs the protein from human blood for its eggs to mature.”
“We have to get rid of all the mosquitoes because they bring bad diseases like Zika and dengue that make us sick,” says 10-year-old Maria Eduarda. She goes on to explain how mosquitoes breed in standing water, but there are simple ways to stop them. “Always get rid of the garbage, keep the house very clean, make sure water bottles are empty and turned upside down, and if you have flowers or plants, cover any extra water under the pot with sand,” she says.
“Can we come in to look around quickly?” says, Miguel. “We won’t take long!”
“You are welcome in my home,” says Edinália, letting the children through the door. “I think it’s very helpful that children come to our homes and tell us what we can do to prevent Zika,” she says. “I’ve learned important things from them and we are now more careful with our garbage, water containers and keeping things tidy.”
Miguel heads to the back of the house to a small, concrete area outside where he knows most people in the neighbourhood have the biggest potential place for mosquitoes to breed – a huge, blue plastic water container, filled to the brim. “Very good!” he says, seeing it. “You keep it covered. That really helps stop them from breeding. I’m going to give you one of our mosquito prevention stickers to put on it!”
When asked how he feels about the impact of his community service, Miguel smiles and says, “It feels good because we are doing good things in our neighbourhood. Xô Zika!”
The latest statistics show that vector control efforts are making a positive difference: the percentage of mosquito breeding locations found in homes in the city in April 2016 was 6.3 per cent and by July 2016 it decreased to 4.3 per cent, according to Campina’s Grande Secretary of Health. And, in Bairro das Cidades, where Miguel and Maria Eduarda are helping out, the percentage fell from 4.4 per cent in April 2016 to 2.7 per cent in July 2016.
Campina Grande is one of over 1,100 cities engaged with the Municipal Seal of Approval, a UNICEF Brazil methodology that helps municipal governments ensure and provide access to children’s rights. In February 2016, UNICEF challenged municipalities to get an “extra point” in the Seal by performing activities focused on stop Aedes aegypti proliferation. Campina Grande has not only conducted those activities but has turned them into municipal laws, and they are now part of the city’s regular agenda.