Combating Malaria and Malnutrition Through Human-Centred Design Strategy
Harnessing the power of community-based solutions to alleviate Malaria and Malnutrition
As once stated by philanthropist Bill Gates, “There are more people dying of malaria than any specific cancer,” and this statement has never been more pertinent, especially in South Sudan.
According to a World Health Organization (WHO 2020) report, malaria deaths in South Sudan reached 5,342 or 6.37% of total deaths. Past health reports also revealed Malaria as one of the main causes of child morbidity in South Sudan, with around 75 per cent of all child deaths registered due to preventable diseases, such as diarrhoea, Malaria, and pneumonia.
Additionally, climatic shocks such as floods in Upper Nile, Unity, and Jonglei areas have increased the number of malaria cases as water provides a breeding ground for mosquitos.
However, in efforts to ensure that the local population is better protected from malaria UNICEF, through the support of the World Bank and UK Aid distributes long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets to families in the region.
Furthermore, UNICEF is engaging communities with lifesaving messages on early healthcare-seeking behaviours and consistent use of mosquito nets to prevent malaria in communities.
In the quest for combating malaria and malnutrition in South Sudan through meaningful involvement and participation of the communities, UNICEF brought together more than 50 participants from the ten states and three administrative areas for a training in Human Centered Design.
The participants comprised mainly state malaria and nutrition practitioners and UNICEF field-based personnel for a four-day workshop on the practical application of Human Centred Design (HCD). The training was geared toward building the capacity of the Ministry of Health professionals on innovative approaches to build their capacity for improving infant and young child feeding (IYCF) and malaria prevention practices.
The training also provided tools grounded in HCD and behavioural insights to understand why people do what they do and examine root causes and together with communities, co-design tailored interventions that move beyond knowledge barriers — considering all stages and influences needed to create and sustain positive change.
While sharing her reflection after the week of training, Antazia Sabasio, the Eastern Equatoria State Nutrition Coordinator, revealed that she will use the knowledge gained from this training to improve community engagement and understanding of the links between Malaria and malnutrition and promote effective preventive measures.
I learned a lot of new things in the training, especially barriers in mitigating and preventing malaria and malnutrition in the communities.
"For example, we learned from our community consultations during the field visit practice in Kator Residential Area yesterday, that communities are unaware that distributed treated mosquito nets should not be washed and hung to dry in the sun.
To address this, I will bring together our partners in our State and use radio, community mobilizers, and mother-to-mother groups to educate the local communities on ways they can prevent malaria and malnutrition,” said Antazia.
Exploring the relationship between Malaria and Nutrition
Malaria is major driver for malnutrition in South Sudan, with many children losing their appetite and severely affected by vomiting and diarrhoea, which comes with Malaria.
Okot William Ojara, who leads the Malaria Program in Eastern Equatoria, said that after interacting with the community during the training field visit session, he learnt about several knowledge gaps on adolescent nutrition which now provide promising avenues for improving community health and development.
“From our interaction with the community yesterday, communities highlighted that families do not involve adolescents when planning family diets," said Okot.
The knowledge I obtained will help me raise awareness for different communities at the state level, and will always remind me to value the voices of adolescents in the communities, and that their participation at every family level is key.
Meanwhile, Dhieu Daniel, a Social and Behavior Change Officer at the National Ministry of Health, stated that the ministry aims to address the current challenge of the diversion of mosquito nets and nutrition supplies citing the availability of the ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) in local markets.
The Ministry of Health is strongly against this diversion of RUTF supplies because these are life-saving supplies for treating severe wasting in children under five years of age. Additionally, this human-centred design approach is a good tool for tackling malaria and malnutrition challenges in our communities.
“Through this approach, we can generate solutions together with communities and tailor strategies that resonate with the beliefs and realities of the communities we serve for preventive interventions. We believe the participants will be the first ambassadors to champion HCD strategies to tackle numerous negative practices, social norms, myths, and misconceptions related to malaria and malnutrition,” Dhieu stressed.
The Human-Centred Design (HCD) approach is an approach that puts people or communities at the center of the development process to co-design solutions that resonate and are tailored to the people’s needs.
The HCD approach combines research methodologies that focus on the needs of the people with design methodologies that allow for innovative solutions and contextually responsive action plans.