Treating and preventing malaria in the Amazon
Menesolita Fernández Barboza is a wife, a mother of three and a farmer living in Loreto Province, in the north-eastern Peruvian Amazon. Loreto, which makes up one-third of the country’s territory, is a fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes, owing to its humidity, frequent rain showers and abundant vegetation. The sparsely populated region consequently accounts for 96% of Peru’s malaria burden.
For the last 15 years, on top of her day job, Menesolita has also been a community healthcare worker (CHW) involved in family support initiatives as well as malaria prevention and treatment. Reflecting on 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began, Menesolita noted there had been several cases of malaria among people within the community, as well as loggers who came from the surrounding areas. She explained that the malaria prevalence is seasonal, “depending on how high or low the water is”.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, another challenge arose: it became more difficult to diagnose and treat malaria because “the symptoms were almost the same. People often did not come to the health centre because they were scared [that it could be COVID]”, Menesolita explains.
For Menesolita, one of the biggest issues with malaria is the knock-on effects, particularly when left untreated. It “affects the children’s defences. They become anaemic because malaria attacks the blood, and then their development is a little delayed. If they are less than a year old, they can also experience stunting,” she continued.
In Peru, CHWs like Menesolita treat patients based on the type of malaria contracted: if it is P. vivax, they take chloroquine and primaquine, while if they are dealing with P. falciparum, they take mefloquine-artesunate, an artemisinin-based combination therapy.
Menesolita wants to increase awareness of how to prevent and treat malaria in her community, especially how to use bed nets correctly. Her motivation is to make sure that members of her community are aware of what to do when they return from areas with high malaria prevalence to avoid spreading malaria back home.