Fresh Voices From the Field—Reaching for Zero Malaria Deaths: a Story From UgandaPosted on by
This is the second in our ongoing “Fresh Voices From the Field” series, where we hear from ASPPH (Association of School and Programs of Public Health) Global Health Fellows working throughout the world. Global Health Fellows are recent Master of Public Health or Doctoral graduates placed in CDC global health offices in Atlanta and abroad. They work on a range of priority public health issues and bring a fresh perspective to CDC’s efforts in the field. (See other “Fresh Voices” blogs.)
As a member of the President’s Malaria Initiative team at CDC, I support malaria efforts in Uganda, where 42% of children are infected with the malaria parasite. Since 2007, Uganda has operated one of the best malaria surveillance systems in the world, providing accurate, timely malaria data from 12 “sentinel” health facilities throughout the country. Despite high demands and limited staffing, these sites perform a laboratory test on every patient suspected of having malaria and ensure all malaria deaths are reported.
To better understand the dramatic burden of the disease on the community, I recently crossed Uganda’s Nile River and made the long, tumultuous drive to a hospital in the northern part of the country. I knew malaria-related mortality was high in this area, but what I found when I arrived brought tears to my eyes.
As I was walking through the inpatient ward, a mother rushed in with her son – rapidly convulsing and eyes sunken – the symptoms of severe malaria. In desperation, she thrust him into my arms. I looked deep into her eyes and saw helplessness and need, injustice and frustration, fatigue, but a glimmer of hope. It was too late. The malaria was too far advanced. The boy died in my arms moments later. All I could do was wipe away the tears and jot in my field notes “there seems to be little reprieve from suffering out here.” I left with a face connected to the numbers and a renewed sense of urgency to get to zero malaria deaths.
Since my visit, Uganda’s sentinel surveillance program started collecting additional data on the signs and symptoms of severe malaria to assist the country in understanding how they can improve quality of care and treatment, and ultimately, save lives. I am confident these efforts, born out of the hard work of local staff, will change the stories of children in Uganda. And ultimately, we will get to zero malaria deaths.