STOMPING OUT MALARIA IN AFRICA – Are we using effective methods?

The month of April is ‘Malaria Month’ for Peace Corps Volunteers because April 25th is World Malaria Day and so we are taking the entire month of April to do Malaria related activities in our communities. I truly believe in the grassroots model of development that PCVs use to create change but I ran across this article in the BBC today about malaria that got me thinking about the effectiveness of some initiatives. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22120936

The article, Malaria hotspots ‘need new approach’, talks about how in areas where malaria incidences have fallen overall some specific populations have actually seen an increase. For example, “In Sri Lanka, where malaria incidence fell by 99.9% between 1999 and 2011, the proportion of infections in men rose from 54% to 93%.” And so it is suggested that “More sophisticated and targeted approaches to identifying those people who are infected, and responding promptly and effectively, must be put in place.” I’m not entirely sure if Madagascar would be considered a Malaria hotspot that needs a new approach but I think there could be some improvement on where efforts are focused.

I live in the highlands of Madagascar where winter is already setting in and there is a significantly lower rate of malaria prevalence. According to the hospital in my town most of the malaria infections come from people who were traveling along the coast. So, while aid organizations can successfully report X number of mosquito nets were distributed in Madagascar the more important question is WHERE were those bed nets distributed and WERE THEY ACTUALLY USED!? Even along the coast you can find bed nets being used for everything under the sun, except for malaria prevention. That, however, can be a whole other issue that aid organizations face all the time.

 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while Malaria is still causing many unnecessary deaths in Madagascar each year, Madagascar might just need some sophisticated and targeted approaches to 100% eliminate infections. Peace Corps Madagascar is trying to do just that by focusing Health volunteers along the coast and making Malaria education a priority. In no way am I trying to beat up on any organization or initiative but I think anyone in development should always be assessing and reassessing the true effectiveness of their efforts. Organizations working at the ‘grassroots level’ are constantly trying to find a way to put a number on the effect they have on a community but if financial backers only look at these numbers, they’re going to miss the real picture. And, if financial backers push for numbered results, they could end up with ineffective efforts, like focusing bed net distribution in low malaria prevalent areas (just an example).

All that being said, I’ll use this month as a reason to talk to different people about Malaria and stress the importance of prevention and seeking medical help if symptoms suggest malaria because I know people in my town are not immune to Malaria. As far as competing with volunteers in other regions, my hat goes off to those on the coast who are working in areas that see much higher rates of Malaria infection because the need is that much greater.

STOMPING OUT MALARIA IN AFRICA – Are we using effective methods?

The month of April is ‘Malaria Month’ for Peace Corps Volunteers because April 25th is World Malaria Day and so we are taking the entire month of April to do Malaria related activities in our communities. I truly believe in the grassroots model of development that PCVs use to create change but I ran across this article in the BBC today about malaria that got me thinking about the effectiveness of some initiatives. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22120936

The article, Malaria hotspots ‘need new approach’, talks about how in areas where malaria incidences have fallen overall some specific populations have actually seen an increase. For example, “In Sri Lanka, where malaria incidence fell by 99.9% between 1999 and 2011, the proportion of infections in men rose from 54% to 93%.” And so it is suggested that “More sophisticated and targeted approaches to identifying those people who are infected, and responding promptly and effectively, must be put in place.” I’m not entirely sure if Madagascar would be considered a Malaria hotspot that needs a new approach but I think there could be some improvement on where efforts are focused.

I live in the highlands of Madagascar where winter is already setting in and there is a significantly lower rate of malaria prevalence. According to the hospital in my town most of the malaria infections come from people who were traveling along the coast. So, while aid organizations can successfully report X number of mosquito nets were distributed in Madagascar the more important question is WHERE were those bed nets distributed and WERE THEY ACTUALLY USED!? Even along the coast you can find bed nets being used for everything under the sun, except for malaria prevention. That, however, can be a whole other issue that aid organizations face all the time.

 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while Malaria is still causing many unnecessary deaths in Madagascar each year, Madagascar might just need some sophisticated and targeted approaches to 100% eliminate infections. Peace Corps Madagascar is trying to do just that by focusing Health volunteers along the coast and making Malaria education a priority. In no way am I trying to beat up on any organization or initiative but I think anyone in development should always be assessing and reassessing the true effectiveness of their efforts. Organizations working at the ‘grassroots level’ are constantly trying to find a way to put a number on the effect they have on a community but if financial backers only look at these numbers, they’re going to miss the real picture. And, if financial backers push for numbered results, they could end up with ineffective efforts, like focusing bed net distribution in low malaria prevalent areas (just an example).

All that being said, I’ll use this month as a reason to talk to different people about Malaria and stress the importance of prevention and seeking medical help if symptoms suggest malaria because I know people in my town are not immune to Malaria. As far as competing with volunteers in other regions, my hat goes off to those on the coast who are working in areas that see much higher rates of Malaria infection because the need is that much greater.

Here’s to another year!

It’s officially been a year since I started this blog and I’ll have been in Madagascar for a year on March 1st. With this benchmark fast approaching I’ve been trying to take some time to refocus myself personally and “professionally”.

Yesterday morning I felt the need to switch up my coffee time reading materials and I took a look at the Dec 22, 2012 edition of The Economist I’d been saving. This edition was great because it reviewed the important world events of 2012. (I know, i know! Only 2 months behind!) After reading the article “The World This Year” I reflected on a few things.

During the first year of Peace Corps service it seems like one should disconnect from the world entirely and focus on culturally integrating into the community. That strategy is legitimate and worthwhile, my fellow PCVs span the spectrum of integration after only a year. A few have 100% adopted the Malagasy way of life and haven’t looked back. Many have found a way of life that includes a happy balance of Malagasy and American culture, and a some cling to American culture and continue to get frustrated by the oddities of the Malagasy way of life. I think I’ve found a nice balance where I can live like an American but I work and interact within Malagasy cultural standards. My situation is thus because I have a PCV site mate, Malagasy counterparts who have been to the states, and the organization I work with sells their products to Americans, so everyone I’m around is pretty tolerant of American culture.

While I have kept my American ways I have increasingly isolated myself from the rest of the world. I no longer hear about or read of the new events in politics, pop-culture, or international affairs. Sometimes it can seem like PCVs compete with each other on how disconnected or how “weird” they have become since moving abroad. This happens naturally when you don’t have regular communication with the western world and when I do hear of some big news story it’s just easier to ignore it rather than to catch up. However, after reading the article in The Economist I realized I didn’t know much at all about the events it described. How pathetic!

What good will it do me to be completely ignorant of the events between 2012-2013? Sure, bragging to other PCVs that I have no idea what is going on in the world may prove I’m tamana (settled) at site and that I’m focused and productive, but can’t I be both?! I understand that not all PCVs were news junkies before they left and I’m sure some don’t care to know the political effects of the events in the Arab world or the possibilities of new international trade agreements, but I was a news junkie and I should care!

Now that I’m about midway through my Peace Corps service I’m starting to prepare for possibilities post PC. My continued interest in economics and international affairs leads me to look at graduate schools. I’ll look into jobs when the time gets closer and consider all the options that will be available to me, but all of these possibilities would not accept a two year gap in world knowledge. I know I want to work abroad or with international organizations in the distant future and my Peace Corps service will & has already prepared me for such a future. So, with all that in mind it seems I need to shrug off the perceived PCV competitions and work a little harder at staying in touch with the world.

Living in the moment and focusing on the day-to-day life here in Mada is vital. Trying to make every day count and staying aware of what is going on in the world takes much more planning & effort. It’s that balance between making an impact and staying aware of what’s going on elsewhere that I need to find, much like finding the balance between American & Malagasy culture.

So, here’s to another productive year in Madagascar and to my continuing education and observation of the world.

The Slinky

What toy is more iconic & American then the Slinky?! Today I fulfilled one of the Peace Corps goals by introducing the Slinky to the Malagasy.

I only had this slinky because my dad insisted I take it back with me from my European vacation. Today it was innocently sitting on my windowsill when two silk weavers came to visit me. They saw it & instantly asked me what it was. I told them it was a toy & showed them how it bounces back & forth from one hand to the next. They kinda laughed & then I thought, ‘I can’t introduce the slinky without trying to show them how it can go down stairs!’ I was a little worried though because I didn’t know if it would work on my stairs. I brought the silkies outside & sent it down the stairs & it bounced down perfectly! The silk weavers, both 35-40 y/o women, thought it was hilarious & we couldn’t stop laughing. They held it in their hands & stretched it out & watched it coil back together.

Later that afternoon one of the women brought her children back to see it & they sent that slinky down about twenty times before they had to go. But their mom & I agreed that was not the last chance they’ll have with the slinky! Amin’ny manarika indray!

20130120-175201.jpg

20130120-175250.jpg

Top 10 Moments of 2012

In the spirit of the New Year I think a look back on 2012 is in order. I took some time and wrote down my top 10 moments of 2012. They’re in no particular order and everyone back home might not understand the context of these moments but I promise you, they were great!

Top 10 moments of 2012

- Celebrating Thanksgiving with PCVs and finally realizing that these crazy PCVs are my new family and I was lucky to be able to celebrate with them.

- Sitting with the silkies at a Famadihana and hearing an outpouring of gratitude for working with them and spending time with them.

- All the time I’ve spent with my site mate. Our town probably thinks we’re crazy together but that’s what makes it great!

- Seeing my parents after 10 months and getting to spend Christmas together.

- Being Sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and then moving to site.

- All the time, parties, & bonding moments I’ve had with the Ambositra crew

- All 8 hugs I’ve received from my Malagasy counterparts. (one on my birthday, when I’ve had some rough times, & when I’ve left or returned from long trips) Hugs are not apart of the Malagasy culture so each one is treasured.

- My first VAC meeting where I was totally surprised by a birthday cake from the wonderful Wallie!

- Video chatting with my sister for the first time in Mada.

- Arriving in Mada and experiencing so many “firsts”

2012 wasn’t with out it’s sad and challenging times. We lost some absolutely amazing and special family members (and a fuzzy canine friend) and they will for sure be with us in thought in the upcoming year.

Saying goodbye to 2012 (in Paris no less) was fun and and the prospects of 2013 are all too exciting. I’ve got a full year in Madagascar ahead of me and some amazing possibilities for the future of Sahalandy to work out!

I hope everyone had a great New Year’s celebration and is looking forward to 2013 as much as I am!

Love you all!

Before I land in Paris

I wrote this about a month ago while I was flying from Mada to Paris. It’s not so much about Peace Corps but it was a fun reflection. Enjoy!

13 years have gone by and I’m finally returning to Paris! As a 9 year old I was incredibly lucky to have parents willing to take me on a cultural and historical adventure to Paris. I remember being so excited to see gothic churches, old buildings, & the paintings I had been studying in art class. I was much less interested in French cuisine and the rich & beautiful Parisian culture.After our trip to Paris I became determined to learn French and was obsessed with the culture & French lifestyle.

Back then, the EU was in the early stages of formation and the idea of a united currency was but a blip on the radar. My family used Francs and I’m guessing the dollar had the upper hand. As a 9 y/o globe trotter I was known for spilling my drinks, crying during take off because of the pressure changes, and relying on my mom & dad to carry my luggage up and down the metro stairs. I gagged at the thought of goat cheese pizza, stuck to plain sugar crepes, & didn’t understand why McDonalds served yogurt. I had Mom, Dad, & older sis to keep an eye on me and show me the wonders of Paris.

Today I will arrive in Paris with a pack on my back, a hostel reservation and only a basic idea of what I’m going to do for the next week. I’ll meet my parents later in London but Paris is ALL MINE!

During the 13 years between visits I’ve studied French, Spanish, & Malagasy. My French is pretty rusty but I can still remember the basics and compared to my family’s language skills back then, I’m pretty damn prepared. I’ve crossed the Atlantic the as many times as I’ve crossed the equator and more importantly, I’ve been living abroad for the last 10 months!

Paris & I have experienced some growth & changes between visits so we have a fair amount of catching up to do! Wish me Bonne Chance!

20130118-131235.jpg

20130118-131249.jpg

Vacation Discoveries

About 48 hrs ago I landed in Paris, France to begin my European holiday vacation. When I left I was seriously questioning why I was leaving. Madagascar has become home and easier to navigate than one of the largest cities in the world, so why go?! Obviously there are thousands of reasons to jump on a chance to go to Paris & London.

The flight itself was amazing. An 11 hr flight before Peace Corps would have been killer but I spent that same amount of time on a brousse getting from site to the capital. So, the 11hr flight was dreamy and I devoured all the food placed in front of me! Once we landed I quickly bought my first item, a Starbucks holiday beverage! Then another peace corps volunteer, that was on my flight, kindly offered to give me a ride to the nearest Metro station. And that was where the dreamy travel ended.

For goodness sakes, I couldn’t even figure out how to buy a ticket to get on the metro. It was pathetic really, but once I got some help with that I started realizing how weird everything was. Mostly, it was the diversity of people, the lack of Malagasy people, & no one staring at me. I had to look at my shoes & remind myself how to breath a few times on that metro ride. Oh, and I also had to ride each line the wrong way before I figured out which direction was correct.

After I finally got to my hostel I had some awesome travelers invite me to hang out with them & I was glad for the company & the beer. It wasn’t long before I was running at the mouth about Peace Corps & Madagascar & all the weird things I’m not used to.

The next morning I got an early start & went to Monte Martre, Sacre Cour, Paris Opera House, & a bunch of high end shoppes. I made many friends at Monte Martre! One was a guy who made me a bracelet that cost him 50 cents to make but wanted to charge me 12€ for it…I educated him about bartering in Madagascar & since it was entertaining & a good story, I got it for 8€. Then there was a French guy who started laughing at me when he saw me change from my flats to my heels. He started talking to me in French & even though I told him I wasn’t good at French he wanted to walk with me down the hill…why not clear the cobwebs off the French in my mind? Of course once we got near a metro station he wanted to take me for a coffee & that was my cue to invent an imaginary friend who was waiting for me at my hostel.

After that I went to the Paris Opera house & spent the best 6€ ever to walk around the opera house. It was amazing and gorgeous & it even had costume on display from famous shows & operas. It also had a music library that most people just walked through. Not me! I spent a good 10-20 min in the two small rooms just reading the spines to find titles or composers I recognized. Right outside of the Opera House are a bunch of high end shoppes. I went and drooled & felt really inadequate in my ‘fancy frippe’. I also visited the Apple store & realized in the last 10 months they have come out with quite a few new products that I’d never heard about. I just shook my head & quickly walked out.

Yesterday & today I’ve remembered, from Buenos Aires, how easy it is to travel via the Metro & how to act so that people don’t automatically think your a tourist (it’s much easier to do when you travel alone & you understand what their saying…just nod the correct answer & your good). But, I’ve also come to realize how easy & enjoyable it is to walk around Paris! Half the time I only have a vague idea where I’m going & I just hope there will be a large landmark I’ll recognize because I’m to stubborn to pull out my map & admit to everyone around I’m a tourist.

Today I took the metro in the direction of the Musee D’Orsay but I realized I couldn’t transfer onto the train for free & being a cheap ass in Paris means I walked the rest of the way along the Seine River. It was a gorgeous walk that gave me my first sighting of Notre Dame, the Louvre, & the Eiffel tower. Eventually it started sprinkling & I was glad my coat was waterproof & I was wearing a hat, but then it started raining so I quickly made my way to the Museum. I spent the rest of my morning & my afternoon at the Musee D’Orsay (known for their wealth of impressionist paintings). I loved the Impressionism, wished there were more of Degas Ballerinas, & was surprised at how much I LOVED Toulouse-Lautrec’s stuff. Afterwards I walked to the Rodin Museum & I’m convinced that’s the best museum in town…but it depends on what ya like.

Afterwards I made it to the Eiffel Tower just as they turned the lights on so it was a great time to snap a bunch of pics. There were also some holiday stands set up selling food & Christmas presents so I enjoyed the holiday cheer & eventually made my way the the train so I could take a couple of night shots of Notre Dame. It was basically too cold to take many pics there but on my way to finding a metro station (map-less of course) I ran into some buildings with holiday lights that were just beautiful.

All in all, this city is just BEAUTIFUL! I couldn’t have picked a better city to hang out in before meeting up with my parents. It’s a great city to be in alone because there’s so much to do and see, but I’m definitely ready to share my travels with my mom & dad! Then I’ll have no reason to continue talking to myself….

Well, I’ll update you all before I leave Paris but for now, Happy Holidays & spread some Christmas Cheer wherever you go!

20121218-212142.jpg

20121218-212200.jpg