Rising to the dual challenge of malaria and COVID-19 in rural Zambia

Chola, a Community Facilitator from Serenje District, Zambia, trained through the MAMaZ project, found himself playing a key role in his community when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in early 2020. This is his story.

Chola is a fisherman, a cassava farmer, and a family man who was first involved in the Mobilizing Access to Maternal Health Services in Zambia (MAMaZ) programme almost 10 years ago as a Community Health Volunteer (CHV). In this role, Chola helped to raise awareness of the danger signs of several childhood illnesses including severe malaria and ensured that children at risk received the urgent care they needed.

A successful pilot project led to scale-up

In 2017, Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) joined Transaid and the National Malaria Elimination Centre Zambia to launch the MAMaZ Against Malaria (MAM) pilot project to improve the treatment and case management of severe malaria in Serenje district. After the exceptional success of the pilot that recorded a 96% reduction in child mortality from severe malaria in the District, the programme was scaled up to cover 355 rural communities across Zambia under the name MAM at Scale.

“Seeing the number of lives that have been saved from severe malaria and the reduction in maternal deaths due to the work of CHVs motivated me to continue supporting these projects for the last 10 years,” explains Chola.

Adapting to the challenges of COVID-19

Little did anyone know at the time when MAM and MAM at Scale were launched that the physical and human infrastructure developed through these projects would turn out to be life-saving support not only for malaria but also for COVID-19, when the pandemic struck in 2020.

Today, Chola is a Community Facilitator, which means he also acts as an information link between public health programmes and rural communities to raise awareness not only of the danger signs and protocols around malaria and other diseases affecting maternal and child health but also for COVID-19. His new role involves a range of tasks from mobilizing communities to mentoring CHVs. Chola and other CHVs have been supporting MAM at Scale to disseminate key information and guidelines from the Zambian Ministry of Health on measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Following their new training adapted to the context of COVID-19, Community Facilitators and CHVs continue their work while adhering to social distancing and safety guidelines. The well-established CHV networks for malaria have opened doors to utilize the same forces to raise awareness on COVID-19 related practices like handwashing and social distancing in the rural communities of Zambia. The MAM at Scale project has also supported CHVs and their communities to establish hand washing stations and food banks.

Chola – a respected family man

Community Facilitators like Chola are well placed to perform this role as they are typically influential and trusted figures within their communities who are therefore able to mobilize people and help spread key information.

Despite the added responsibilities, Chola smiles widely and says, “I am still a family man and I squeeze out a little time in my schedule to go fishing or tend to my cassava farm”.

Source: Transaid