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Malaria Is Once Again Killing In Uganda

In 2009, President Obama re-funded the Global Health Initiative, started by President Bush in 2005, to reduce the burden of diseases and promote healthy living for communities all over the world. An important component of this program was the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI).

PMI was started as a five-year, $1.2 billion project to prevent and treat malaria in hopes of reducing malaria-related deaths by 50% in 15 different countries in Africa. The goal was to remove malaria as a major public health problem. Uganda was one of the first three PMI countries, and activities in Gulu began in 2009.

At the time, Malaria was Uganda’s leading cause of mortality with Lacor Hospital reporting 40,000 cases each year. Children were dying at alarming rates. Malaria is treatable if caught right away, but in children, this is not always so easy. Parents are often working all day outside of the village. It can be an entire day before they return home to find a child with a fever. For many in Gulu, it takes a day or more to walk to Lacor Hospital. By this time, it is much too late.

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PMI began by distributing insecticide-treated mosquito nets for families to sleep underneath. To ensure they were used properly, training was done in schools, the Hospital and through the media.

Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) was also undertaken through PMI. IRS is the application of insecticide inside homes on surfaces that can accommodate malaria-infected mosquitos. IRS kills mosquitos when they come in contact with treated surfaces therefore preventing the transmission of the disease.

The results were quite dramatic. During the five-year period in which PMI took place, not only did the fatalities of malaria decrease, but there was a steady decline in infected patients. By the year 2014 when the program ended, Lacor Hospital was reporting LESS THAN 2,000 CASES PER YEAR.

And now, here we are in 2015, just one year after the program ended. In January of this year, there were 76 reported cases in just one week. In April this number jumped to 268 and by June, Lacor Hospital was reporting 448 cases of malaria per week. There have been 18 fatalities since May.

What is the problem here? Malaria is a huge issue, and it it takes sustained and consistent efforts to treat such a problem. Control and elimination is a long-term investment, one that must span longer than five years.

It is great that government and NGO’s discover issues and quickly move in to try and help manage the destruction. The problem lies in the aftermath of that work. In this example, a program of IRS in addition to mosquito nets has proven to be effective in decreasing the transmission of malaria. But now that this has been discovered and has proven to work, the help has moved on to the next “hot” issue, and Uganda is left to keep this program up and running on its own. Financially, this is not a possibility.

This is important to remember when choosing an institution to donate your time or money to. It is not enough for an organization to enter a country, implement a program, and then leave handing the responsibility of maintaining the program to the country. In most cases, due to lack of money and resources, this is not a viable option.

This is one of the many ways Social Promise is different than other organizations. We support only existing institutions already doing amazing work in Uganda. Lacor Hospital and St. Jude Children’s Home are reputable places with long standing ties to the community. They employ local people, so supporting them not only helps ensure their programs are successful, but it also helps build the economy in neighboring communities.

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