Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Stomping Out Malaria

On the 18th of September, I flew from Uganda to Kenya to the Ivory Coast, finally reaching Dakar, Senegal.  I showed up at the Senegal Peace Corps Office (Corps de la Paix) without much of an idea of what I'd be in for.  I had skimmed what seemed to be an overly optimistic schedule for the coming 10 days of "Boot Camp."  All I knew for sure was that I had close to $200 in my pocket and several neck-ties (and one bow-tie) in my bag; I figured the rest would work itself out.  I knew very little about malaria; 90% of what I knew came from a quick and dirty reading list provided by the camp.  To be honest, what I really expected was to get a break away, see a new country, ride some waves, and save some per-diem to be used on a future trip.

On the 30th of September, I flew back to Uganda. I came back with 7 extra pounds was on my body (Senegalese food---there are no words.), ~130 extra gigabytes of data on my computer (google drive, mumford & sons, Watch The Throne, Etc.etc.etc.), 35 new facebook friends, and a new outlook on my coming year in Uganda.  What I lost was (Besides my coveted Kavu Visor and my precious sunglasses) any excuse not to make an impact on Malaria in Uganda.  I have come back disillusioned, empowered, and for the first time in quite some time...Optimistic.

As beautiful as Senegal is, it is a true testament to the training that I won't be talking about it.  Its beautiful.  As wonderful as the food at the training center was, it is even MORE of a testament that I won't be talking about it. --I might have to have a follow-up post about it.--  Speaking sincerely, Stomp Out Malaria's Boot Camp was 10 days of the best training I've ever received.

The camp held almost 30 volunteers from 12 different countries within Africa, each having specific affiliations in malaria at their sites.  From 9am-9pm we were on a schedule.  From supply chain management to radio psa's, Epidemiology to behavior change, log frames to Indoor Residual Spraying, and on and on, we acquired the tools necessary to become resources for other volunteers in our respective country of service.  These lessons were taught by international leaders in the field through skype sessions from all over, from Stanford to the CDC HQ in Atlanta to the PC HQ in D.C.  I personally talked to the overall Peace Corps Director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet about the Stomp Out Malaria Camp (http://stompoutmalaria.org/boot-camp-v-day-9-a-message-from-the-acting-peace-corps-director-care-groups-model-and-united-against-malaria/)

There was much more than information.  Underwriting every session, meal, and minute while at camp there could be felt a certain degree of expectation.  The creators of this camp very openly (and repeated several times) their intention of holding us, as boot camp participants, to a higher standard in every way.  It was expected to dress professionally each day, to have read case studies before the night session the day prior, and to be able to apply country specific highlights to lessons being taught.  This expectation was embossed with an otherwise overwhelming amount of information, an ever-increasing access to documents from all over Africa, and incredibly wide-spread network of people with which to find out answers.  By the end of the 10 days I felt polished into a volunteer that could actually tackle such an overwhelming topic that is Malaria.  I was reinvigorated with the feeling that I was now apart of something that I could truly be proud of.

It is a dangerous thing, this hope I now possess.  Every day in Africa is a challenge; trying to accomplish real results in it is something else entirely.  This kind of mentality, though, I will no longer accept as rationale for lack of progress.  I refuse the jaded attitude that clouds over like cataracts, and have resolved to remain in a state of near furious motion until my goals (which ARE attainable) are met.

The world lost somewhere between 700,000-1,000,000 people last year due to malaria.  This staggering figure is brought home quickly, with Uganda itself being about 10% responsible for this (estimated 80,000-110,000 die annually).  In some places in Uganda, the average person gets bit over 1500 times by an infected mosquito.  That means each day a person is being bit 5 times by a mosquito carrying a deadly disease.  Malaria is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Uganda, and in children under-5 attributes close to 50% of total deaths.

The overarching mission is to have near 0 deaths in all 19 Presidential Malaria Initiative funded countries by 2015.  Time to get to work.

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