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Voices Against Malaria (con't)David Colwell

Voices Against Malaria (continued)

Big Picture

Musicians showed the practical power of Mali’s music culture when the project started in 2006.

A bureaucratic logjam had kept nets warehoused in the capital for months. So the Voices staff mobilized a group of high-profile advocates—including top musicians, legislators and health officials—to film public service announcements, explains Mali country director Djiba Kane Diallo.

Salif Keita, Mali’s first world music superstar, brought results immediately. “We went together to the Ministry of Health and filmed,” recalled Diallo. “[Keita] stood in front of the Ministry of Health and said, ‘It’s almost the rainy season, so we need to give nets to people and alert them to use them.’ We made the PSA and aired it. A day or two later the Minister of Health herself called and said, ‘Okay, what do you need?’”

From that came an annual distribution of nets at the district and community levels, with more nets provided by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the President’s Malaria Initiative. After the 2007 campaign provided treated nets to more than 2.8 million children, a survey showed that 80 percent of households with children under age 5 had treated nets. The next question: Would they use them?

Among the hurdles to fighting malaria, the biggest may be long-standing public acceptance of the disease. You need a powerful message to tackle a mountain that people have come to accept as part of the landscape.

Abdoulaye Diabaté, one of Mali’s most popular musicians, said, “I suffered too much from malaria.” He recalled the high fever and headaches, the vomiting and diarrhea and the repeating cycle of shivers and sweats through the night. “It was not just me, it was all children my age, catching the same illness,” he said. “We grew up that way, accepting the disease. We didn’t know it could be different.”

First, Voices of Mali enlisted top health officials to articulate the message to policymakers. These champions included Ogobaro Doumbo, who heads the Malaria Research and Training Center at the University of Bamako. Doumbo helped Voices sensitize legislators from Mali and 17 other countries across West Africa to how they could help, starting with increasing
the proportion of national budgets devoted to health.

One evening at Point G, a century-old hospital on a bluff overlooking the capital, Doumbo explained this high-level advocacy. To motivate public figures, Doumbo said, “you have to use an exact but simple message.” Malaria is a specific fever, he explains, and by improving diagnosis and prevention it can be beaten. Then he marshaled a compelling comparison: “This is equal to three to four tsunamis happening every year to African kids.

“Africa has lost a lot of Einsteins, a lot of Pasteurs, a lot of Bill Gateses because of malaria. So if you’re able to eliminate malaria, you will see it increases the general creativity in this country and the ability of people to innovate and bring science to make their own solutions.” 

Doumbo added, “When you say that to parliamentarians, they listen.”


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  • Lyn Julius

    South Africa 09/28/2012 09:45:26 AM

    Smart words and I appreciate the simple message" Malaria is a special fever"

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Music vs. Malaria in West Africa

Music vs. Malaria in West Africa

West African musicians are helping change attitudes and behavior to protect people from malaria.

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