Dr Amos Nyirenda and his team helping communities such as Tandahimba

Health workers fighting it on the frontline

Almost everyone in Tanzania is at risk of malaria. The mosquito-borne disease is responsible for more than 10% of deaths among children under five in this East African country. As part of the Africa Malaria Partnership, GSK supports Amref Health Africa’s work in Tanzania, helping to fight this disease.

Dr Amos Nyirenda describes how he and his team at Amref Health Africa are helping to make sure rural communities such as Tandahimba have the tools and knowledge they need to help prevent malaria. 

In a country like Tanzania where malaria is endemic, the disease brings a heavy human and economic cost. Most prevalent in the rainy season when agricultural productivity is at its peak, malaria particularly affects women and children who are often farmers within the community. This can result in a dramatic decline in family income. Without the resources to access healthcare, communities in rural districts such as Tandahimba face a daily threat from malaria.

After working for almost 12 years as a doctor, I wanted to help prevent some of the devastating diseases that I had spent my career trying to treat. Having grown up in the Tabora region in Tanzania, I had seen first-hand the impact public health organisations can have preventing diseases and wanted to fulfil my dream of working for an international health development agency. Now, as a Programme Manager for Amref’s Clinical and Diagnostics Programme, I serve as the primary point of contact and collaborator between the project teams, implementation partners, donors, government partners and communities. After eight years working for Amref I continue to be driven by the positive effect our work is having on the lives of Tanzanians in need of better healthcare.

GSK AMREF healthcare training
GSK/AMREF healthcare training

Amref has found several ways to help educate communities about malaria prevention. We train health workers, who are selected by their own communities. Each health worker is assigned a number of households to visit regularly where they encourage malaria prevention and ensure that families have mosquito nets. Twice a year we conduct village health days where we teach communities about malaria and its symptoms. We use everything from billboards to wall murals and drama groups to convey malaria messaging and work with the local government, village health committees and district councils to share information.

Since I started working for Amref I’ve seen positive changes in Tanzania in the fight against malaria. The management of malaria has improved due to health workers receiving the right training. The disease is being diagnosed faster through the use of rapid diagnostic tests, more people are sleeping under mosquito nets and sanitation has improved resulting in fewer breeding sites for mosquitoes. All of this has contributed to a fewer people dying from malaria.

The disease brings a heavy human and economic cost. About 40% of the public healthcare budget is spent on the fight against malaria.

However, just like other rural districts in Tanzania, our frontline team face a number of challenges treating malaria. There is a chronic shortage of health workers with one per every 880 people in the community, and where we do have trained staff, there is often a significant lack of medical supplies and resources including essential drugs. Health facilities can be located miles from the community or are not visited due to financial, educational or cultural barriers.

Across Africa, the communities Amref serve are very underprivileged and their governments cannot afford to meet all their needs. The positive changes organisations like Amref are bringing to Tanzania could not be realised without the collaborative engagement in place with companies like GSK. The communities we serve will still need private sector support for many years to come to maintain and strengthen healthcare infrastructures and control malaria.

Working on the ground to combat malaria has given me a better understanding of the real health needs of rural Tanzanians. I now look at those living in remote areas as people who deserve to be a high priority in any healthcare planning.

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