The Anglican Church working across the borders of Angola and Namibia to eliminate malaria
On May 15th 2014, while my supervisor was attending a Roll Back Malaria board meeting in Geneva, I was traveling through the Angolan bush to complete GPS mapping of an area we aim to target with malaria prevention interventions. The Roll Back Malaria board strategized, brainstormed, set policy, discussed funding and latest research developments. Meanwhile, our team and I, thirsty and hungry, were calf-deep in muddy waters, wielding machetes and shovels, devising strategies to rescue our vehicle from the depths of an ever-hungry oshana (muddy swamp).
After spending 8 hours struggling to get our program vehicle out of the boggy soil, which involved dismantling a nearby make-shift fish dam for branches, chopping branches off one of the few surrounding trees, making small barrages from mud with local children around the vehicle in an attempt to remove as much water as possible. We walked for about 12 Km in search of help. We were in trouble and the help we needed was critical. We needed a courageous driver with a strong tow rope and a big heart. Once we were out of the quagmire, the driver of the tow car suggested he drive our vehicle for us because we did not know the area, and it was 2 hours past sunset, and he could get us to a point where we would be able to navigate the remainder of our journey. Relief could be felt throughout our team as we finally set off on solid ground. Relief quickly turned to apprehension, however, after the driver and our convoy stopped on 2 occasions to exchange money and pick up strangers who reeked of all things lovely (alcohol and cigarettes), then on the third time, we were stopped at a border post by a military commander who would not let us pass. He demanded to know who we were and why we were there. “Saving lives from malaria” and presentation of our documents did little to impress but our Church affiliation, ID cards, car logos and uniform t shirts helped us resolve this tense situation, and we carried on. We stopped once more, when our enterprising rescue driver told us he would leave us after receiving his compensation. None of us recognized where we were. We drove for 3 hours before seeing a light in the distance that represented the Namibian border. As we approached, we were stopped and warned that approaching the border at this time of night might result in gun shots. Tired, not wanting to be shot, and aware of the fact that we were aimlessly roving through a part of Angola with active landmines leftover from the long civil war, we decided to spend the night in the car.
We spent the few remaining hours of the cold night in the vehicle. Once the sun rose, we were able to see where we were. We had had been led back to the place where we had started the night before.
This experience is not unique. This experience is not unusual and the commitment, determination and yes faith of our program team is demonstrated day in and day out. This is the reality of eliminating malaria. Access, education and committed trained field workers are essential to the fight against malaria. These workers take risks, they believe in the goal and they play a critical part in the fight. Our church members and volunteers are not simply implementers, they are our partners, and when they say that “We believe that if anyone in our community has malaria we all have malaria” they mean it.
Malaria elimination is about more than the eradication of a parasite; it is about the people living the truth of malaria. It is about supporting the people in the field working to protect their children, families and neighbors from malaria. Grassroots, community owned-and-driven initiatives are manifestations of a community’s desire to progress, of a mother’s goal to protect her children, of a village leader’s aim to lead their people to a better life, and central to this is the role of the Church.
The elimination of malaria will require both grassroots initiatives and meetings at Roll Back Malaria, Global academic conferences, and the Bi-annual Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM) conference. Imagine the day when malaria trailblazers from around the globe and leaders of local, ground initiatives join together at the mahogany conference table and declare success - a world with no deaths from a treatable preventable disease - malaria.
Isdell:Flowers is a joint partnership of the J.C. Flowers Foundation and the Anglican church working to eliminate malaria across the borders of Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.