SIL International Media Release
Literacy and a public health project reduce malaria
(November 2008) A community literacy program is contributing to the success of a public health project in Burkina Faso that is designed to create a malaria-free zone. During the first phase in April and May, 99% of the people who received nets and curtains had used them appropriately, with the local health clinic reporting an impressive decrease in malaria cases. The project is a cooperative effort between the Association Kaan Alpha (AKA), Somerled Foundation and SIL. It has the encouragement of the U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso and the wife of Prime Minister Tertius Zongo.
The yearlong project among the Kaan people began in April with the distribution of 1600 sets of treated mosquito nets and curtains in the Obiré area. During the next phase, nets will be distributed 17–20 November in the nearby town of Loropéni. This distribution will cover two sectors of the town–approximately 1500 residences. Their goal is to get nets into every bedroom, and curtains on every front entry door and sitting room window.
Kaansa literacy background
The distribution is using educational materials about malaria prevention in the Kaansa language developed by the Kaan community with help from SIL, which has been working in the area since 1987. Since then, the writing system for Kaansa has been developed and a literacy program established. The project has been fully supported by the Kaan Iya, the traditional ruler of the Kaan people. He has been present to oversee all activities and will be present for the distribution next week.
Members of the Kaansa literacy association AKA have been central to the organization of the distributions that began in April in Obiré. AKA has been active in promoting Kaansa language literacy in the Kaan community during the last 15 years. Questionnaires printed in both French and Kaansa are used to gather data on each person receiving a net or a set of curtains. Interviews are all conducted in Kaansa. This is the first time written Kaansa has been used to gather scientific data in a public health project.
During the opening ceremonies, posters printed in Kaansa are read aloud to educate people about how malaria is transmitted and can be prevented. The educational element of the presentation is also translated orally into two other local languages, Lobiri and Jula. Campaign workers wear T-shirts in the Kaansa, Lobiri and Jula languages with messages about using nets.
Public health and a Millennium Development Goal
The use of mosquito nets and curtains in Obiré significantly decreased the incidence of fevers (of all types, including malarial) this year during a season that normally has a four-fold increase in malaria. Cases of fever reported by Kaan villagers in the distribution zone decreased by 72% from levels reported three months earlier. This is extraordinary because for the respective period for the previous year, a 425% increase in malaria cases from that zone had been reported to the rural health clinic five miles from Obiré.
This program is part of a global campaign to halt and reduce the incidence of malaria in tropical regions. The malaria parasite, carried by the anopheles mosquito, needs a human host for part of its lifecycle. When the majority of the people in a community use the treated nets and curtains properly to keep from being bitten, malaria may actually be eradicated from the area. With funding through his Somerled Foundation, Ian Macdonald, M.D., hopes to create a protected zone in the Loropéni health district by distributing treated nets and curtains to nearly all the homes in the district. This campaign has the potential to vastly improve the public health profile of the Kaan community.
The distribution next week will be in Loropéni, a multi-ethnic town of approximately 15,000 people. Significant groups of Kaan people migrated into the Loropéni region about 500 years ago. The first sector of Loropéni to receive nets will include the traditional Kaan village of Toethan.
Mosquito nets and networking
The long-lasting impregnated nets (LLINs) were developed by Vestergaard-Frandsen and last through 20 washings–approximately two years–according to documentation supplied by the company. The nets contain a slow-release insecticide that kills mosquitoes and is harmless to humans.
The distribution of these nets has been made possible through a cooperative network:
- Encouragement from the wife of Prime Minister Tertius Zongo of Burkina Faso
- Encouragement from the U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso
- Members of the Kaansa literacy association (Association Kaan Alpha)
- Logistical support of political and public health officials in Burkina Faso
- Financial, technical and administrative support of the Somerled Foundation, Silver Spring, Maryland
- SIL Burkina Faso