Female scientists in Africa are urging policymakers to involve women leaders in the community to help eradicate malaria. An article written by Damaris Matoke-Muhia, Senior Research scientist, at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, was published in The Conversation. She stated than in sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria is endemic and infection cycles are seasonal, there is a lack of female representation at top-level talks and policy discussions.
Across Kenya, and indeed most of sub-Saharan Africa, women are the primary caregivers to those suffering from malaria, mostly mothers looking after their children, however since the HIV epidemic more grandmothers and aunts are looking after orphaned relations.
As well as providing care for children and sick relatives, women are also active in the community, sharing health information and often, providing health education.
A behavioural study, published in Malaria Journal, looked at bed-net care and repair in sub-Saharan Africa, found women were primarily responsible for maintenance of preventative malaria measures, such as nets and screens. Domestic duties such as mending, sewing and cleaning are seen as traditionally female tasks.
However, the study found that the women who were maintaining the nets had little knowledge of other preventive techniques against malaria, they were also not particularly skilled in repair often compromising the integrity of the screens. Other domestic duties are also considered more important that fixing nets, such as food preparation and caregiving.
Knowledge of Malaria
A paper published by Yaya et al in 2017, found that almost half of rural women in Burkina Faso have ‘limited or poor’ knowledge of malaria. Many do not know simple preventative measures, causes of malaria and the symptoms. The majority of the women in the study had never been formally educated above primary level, and very few had more than secondary school education. The authors said the low levels of basic education are contributing factors to the women’s lack of knowledge about malaria.
Women’s domestic and community roles are critical to malaria prevention; however, knowledge is patchy and education programmes scarce. The more educated women are about malaria, the disease prevalence decreases and both infant and pregnant mother mortality rates improve.
Women and education
The absence of education in women reflects further in the lack of female representation in the fields of science and politics. Women are traditionally expected to marry and have children, though many women are now challenging this stereotype, there are not enough of them, says Damaris Matoke-Muhia
Across sub-Saharan Africa there are many methods in which health information and malaria awareness is disseminated. A paper by Addo and Addo, says that “health education in malaria prevention and control interventions traditionally have been championed through radio education, TV and newspaper advertisements, talk shows and documentary series.” Recently to engage a wider audience with malaria prevention and control, community health workers have become more creative with live concerts and musical shows to spread awareness.
CABI Global Health has almost 900 results when searching: ("malaria") and ("health education" or "health promotion" or "education") and ("women" or "female")
Dillip, A., Mboma, Z.M., Greer, G. et al. ‘To be honest, women do everything’: understanding roles of men and women in net care and repair in Southern Tanzania. Malar J 17, 459 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12936-018-2608-7
Matoke-Muhia, D. (2020) Why the elimination of malaria needs much greater involvement of women. The Conversation. March 18, 2020 https://theconversation.com/why-the-elimination-of-malaria-needs-much-greater-involvement-of-women-133451
Owusu-Addo E, Owusu-Addo S. (2014) Effectiveness of Health Education in Community-based Malaria Prevention and Control Interventions in sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review. Vol.4, No.3, 2014 https://www.iiste.org/Journals/index.php/JBAH/article/view/10976/11277
Yaya S, Bishwajit G, Ekholuenetale M, Shah V, Kadio B, et al. (2017) Knowledge of prevention, cause, symptom and practices of malaria among women in Burkina Faso. PLOS ONE 12(7): e0180508. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0180508