This year Comic Relief is focusing on tackling one of the world’s biggest killers - malaria. But women in Tanzania have already successfully come together to battle against the disease.
Words by Kaya Windrich
Despite being both preventable and treatable, malaria remains one of the world’s deadliest diseases, claiming a child’s life in Africa every two minutes. A further 3.2 billion people – half the world’s population – are also believed to be at risk of infection.
Johari, 32, from Tanzania, was one month pregnant with twins when she became seriously ill from malaria. Lacking sufficient information on how to protect herself against the disease she was frequently sick throughout her pregnancy. Although her babies were born healthy, her second son often succumbed to malaria.
‘I didn’t have enough information about what to do to prevent my son from getting sick,’ said Johari. ‘He was sick a lot, and every month I had to go to the hospital for malaria testing and treatment.’
However Johari’s life changed when she discovered the Kanyabeza Community Group. This small group of women from the rural community have come together to help women like Johari ease the emotional and financial burden of caring for their sick children. The group support each other by each paying an initial membership fee, plus a weekly contribution (less than £1) to provide loans to other members when they are faced with a financial burden like a sudden illness.
Johari said: ‘Most of our husbands don’t support us in terms of taking care of the kids. Sometimes we are running around trying to ask for money so we can take the kids to the hospital. We have no support. So the idea of us joining together was really helpful. We help each other, we learn from each other, and we get a lot of support from the group.’
Women in Johari’s community are not encouraged to be independent and self-sufficient, yet these women have risen up against social norms to become a lifeline for many in their community. Johari herself is now a secretary of the group, and her husband also owns shares in the Kanyabeza group as one of the only male members. The group also provides vital education about malaria, STI’s, birth control and nutrition, and Johari strongly feels that the malaria situation in her community is starting to improve.
‘Three years ago the malaria cases in the community were very high. Now because of new skills and education, things are getting better. After joining the group, my son is not getting sick so often. I learnt about nutrition too and now make sure the kids take water after every meal. They are much healthier compared to three years ago.’
Johari has four children in total – a 17 year old, six year old twins and a two year old. Happily, they have been malaria free for six months.
Since 2004 the number of people dying from malaria in Tanzania has fallen by 73%, but there is still a long way to go. Worldwide an estimated 303,000 under-five-year-olds died from malaria in 2015. That’s the equivalent of 830 children every single day.
This year Comic Relief and GSK, are working together to fund the Tanzania Communication and Development Centre, which delivers life-saving information and support to communities like Johari’s, as well as training health workers to prevent and treat malaria. Thanks to their work, Johari has a positive outlook for her children’s future: ‘In the future there will still be a lot of challenges because people are still getting sick from malaria, but I’m not losing hope because of that. I am still fighting because I know things are going to change.’