Win a quiz, win a mosquito net

Efforts to protect children against Malaria

By Arnold Munthali
Danani James, right, gets his free mosquito net from school officials at Mphasi Primary School
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Mvula
13 July 2021

It is after 12 noon at Mphasi Primary School in Mphasi Village in the area of Traditional Authority Njombwa in Kasungu. The sun’s malevolent gaze is tempered by wisps of scattered clouds gliding across the sky and the gentle breeze that is swaying the trees to and from.

Some pupils — girls in green dresses and pink shirts and boys in green shirts with pink trims — are milling around the windswept grass lawn in the school yard. A call-and-response routine from one of the classrooms can be overheard above the chatter of excited voices on the playground.

In one of the classrooms, pupils of varying ages and from different classes are engaged in a quiz on malaria. They are members of the school’s Edzi Toto Club and they have formed teams with made-up names of primary schools.

The patron of the club, Abel Chisale, asks questions as its matron, Mphatso Nyirenda, tallies the scores. Back and forth, the game of question-and-answer goes on as the teacher tests the children’s knowledge of malaria and the enthusiastic kids respond. They win some, they lose some.

Learners, including Danani James taking part in the quiz
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Mvula
Learners, including Danani James taking part in the quiz

After a rigorous session, one team emerges victorious. Danani James is a member of the victorious team. He seems to be cut out for this. The standard seven pupil says the quizzes competitions have broadenedhis knowledge of malaria.

“After the inter-school quiz, I was able to transfer the knowledge I had gained about malaria to my parents and my peers. The quiz also helped me to understand how to prevent malaria,” says the 16-year-old.

Danani James also represented the school a few months ago in an inter-school quiz in which his school came second.

Outstanding schools and learners went away with different prizes; rakes and slashes were awarded to competing schools, as a reminder to keep their school environment clean and prevent mosquito bleeding while the best learners were awarded a mosquito bed net for personal use. Quiz questions revolved around what causes malaria, signs and symptoms, preventive measures and treatment compliance.

Malaria remains one of Malawi’s major public health problems, with the country reporting 6.9 million cases of malaria in 2018, up from 5.8 million in 2017. The disease is a leading cause of morbidity and death in children under five years and pregnant women. There has been  an increase of malaria in school-going children in the past two years. The 2019 Health Management Information Systems (HMIS 2019) estimates that malaria alone accounts for over 23 per cent of outpatient visits and 18 per cent of in-patients in Malawi.

For Kasungu, the national figures seem fairer by comparison.According to Al-Jannat Sadala, malaria coordinator for Kasungu District Health Office, 40 per cent of outpatient visits and 20 per cent of hospital admissions are for malaria.

“As you can see, those are high numbers and they translate to a huge burden for Kasungu,” Sadala says.

The Parent and Child Health Initiative (PACHI) is implementing a two-year ‘Zero Malaria Starts with Me Campaign’ in Kasungu, Karonga, Mzimba and Neno to support the elimination of malaria among women and children, especially school-going children in Malawi.

PACHI conducts sensitization meetings with representatives of various sectors of the society as well as engaging schools in ways that are as informative as they are entertaining and interactive.

Mphasi Primary School is one of the schools which PACHI has partnered with in the fight against malaria.

The school has had its fair share of challenges regarding malaria.

“In the previous months, as many as 10 to 15 pupils would be absent each day due to suspected malaria,” laments Nyirenda, a teacher at the school.

But she says only three or less are absent or seek permission to go home due to illness, thanksto the interventions they have put in place.

“We conduct various awareness activities such as drama, poems and songs in order to drive our messages across,” Nyirenda explains.

Mercy Mwanza, a learner from Mphasi Primary School tucks in her new mosquito net at home in Mphasi Village in Kasungu
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Mvula
Mercy Mwanza, a learner from Mphasi Primary School tucks in her new mosquito net at home in Mphasi Village in Kasungu

Mwale adds that the campaign, which is funded by the Swiss National Committee for UNICEF with support from UNICEF Malawi and the Malawi Government, engages children as change agents who take malaria messages home to their parents and communities.

While the drop in malaria follows a familiar pattern for the district, where cases peak from December to April or May, Sadala believes the PACHI initiative involving school children, could go a long way in eliminating malaria in the district.

“Whenever we are engaging with communities, we do it through several platforms such as schools and churches. The idea of zero malaria is feasible but it starts with community engagement,” Sadala explains.

School-going children, who are some of the worst affected population by malaria, need engagement because of the long-term impact it would have on the campaign, says Sadala.

“They get some of the information from class, but the information we are giving them is concrete information, is evidence based and if they grasp it they should be able to grow with it,” he says.

According to HMIS (2019), malaria has serious socioeconomic impacts on families and the nation through labor hours lost, school absenteeism and high levels of expenditures for prevention and treatment.

Mwale explains that due to various interventions the school has put in place to prevent malaria since March, the rate of absenteeism has gone down significantly.

There are 834 pupils at Mphasi Primary School, 447 of these are girls.