Peace Corps Volunteers’ Community-Based Malaria Intervention in Senegal Improves Outcomes, Saves Lives

November 17, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 17, 2015 – During their Peace Corps service in Senegal, returned Peace Corps volunteers Ian Hennessee and Anne Linn designed and implemented a community-based malaria testing program that helped reduce the odds of symptomatic malaria 30-fold in 15 Senegalese communities. The pilot program’s effectiveness was recently highlighted in the Journal of Tropical Medicine and International Health and Senegal’s National Malaria Control Program expanded the project to 150 villages last year with plans to rollout across two whole regions, an area of 1.5 million people, currently underway.

“There are a variety of real or perceived barriers that delay treatment seeking for malaria—cost, geography, education,” said Linn, who was in Masters International program and received a degree from Tulane University’s School of Tropical Medicine following the completion of her service. “Our model gives home care providers a mechanism to meet their community members where they are, bridging the gap and preventing avoidable deaths.”

The model—called ProActive Community Treatment (ProACT)—differs from other malaria treatment programs because it emphasizes the support of community health workers and on the spot testing and treatment. Wearing backpacks stocked with medical supplies provided by the Senegalese Ministry of Health, teams of community health workers are paid a small amount to conduct weekly sweeps of their village and use rapid diagnostic test kits to evaluate anyone exhibiting symptoms of malaria. For those that test positive, teams have the medical supplies to treat them on the spot.

“I had watched so many kids get malaria over the past two rainy seasons and seeing my family and friends delay treatment seeking time and again had been the most frustrating part of my service,” Linn said. “So many resources are poured into programs focusing on mass screening and mass treatments, but we ended up with better results by using a sustained and community-based approach.”

Throughout their pilot study, Hennessee and Linn tested the prevalence of symptomatic malaria in comparison villages that retained the original, passive model of community case management where the onus remains on the patient to seek care. At the beginning, prevalence of symptomatic malaria was very similar but by the end of the rainy season, prevalence in intervention villages was drastically lower.

“Even though I had seen it, I couldn’t quite believe it,” Linn said. “This small tweak of the existing health system that empowered community health workers to work at their full capacity is making a huge difference in these villages. Some of that difference can be measured in astounding graphs of symptomatic malaria prevalence, and some can be captured in the words of a counterpart who called me as I was leaving the country and told me, ‘This work made me realize my value.’ I hope, too, that this work can help Peace Corps volunteers realize their value.”

About the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps sends the best and brightest Americans abroad on behalf of the United States to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world. Volunteers work at the grassroots level to develop sustainable solutions that address challenges in education, health, economic development, agriculture, environment and youth development. Through their service, volunteers gain a unique cultural understanding and a life-long commitment to service that positions them to succeed in today’s global economy. Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, nearly 220,000 Americans of all ages have served in 140 countries worldwide. For more information, visit www.peacecorps.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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