Trusted Messages and Messengers Contribute to Life-Saving Malaria Prevention Campaigns in Benue

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Malaria is a leading cause of mortality and frequent hospitalizations among children under five in Nigeria. The disease can progress rapidly, leading to severe complications such as cerebral malaria, severe anaemia, and respiratory distress. These repeated episodes of sickness can have long-term consequences, affecting physical and cognitive development and limiting future opportunities.

Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention (SMC) is a vital component of Nigeria’s strategy to address malaria, particularly in children living in areas with seasonal disease transmission. Benue State Malaria Elimination Program conducts campaigns annually in four cycles from June to September, during the peak of the rainy season when children under five are most likely to be affected by malaria. Community Drug Distributors (CDDs) distribute the Sulphadoxine Pyrimethamine Amodiaquine (SPAQ) combination, ensuring that every eligible child from 3 months to 59 months is reached.

Coordinating the SMC campaigns requires a comprehensive approach that addresses community members’ concerns, attitudes, and barriers so that children receive the full SMC dosages. It also includes ensuring every house knows about the SMC campaign and when a CDD will visit their household. The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI)-funded Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria supports rural communities like Adi in Etilo ward of Buruku Local Government Area of Benue state, known to have limited access to healthcare and fatal complications of malaria in children under five.

Knowing that religious and traditional leaders are influential in Adi, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria worked with them as trusted voices who would build understanding and trust for SMC, encouraging parents to have their children receive the treatment. Before the SMC campaign in Adi, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria visited traditional and religious leaders and spoke with them about their role in preventing malaria in children by speaking out in support of the SMC campaign. Religious leaders were given briefs with correct information addressing frequently asked questions about SMC to guide them in sharing the messages with community members. The religious leaders went on to deliver messages during sermons and other gatherings.

The messages the Adi community members, including Mrs Abul, a mother of a two-year old daughter, heard from their community leaders were on the benefits and safety of the preventive treatment and addressed myths and misconceptions about SMC. In addition, religious leaders shared messages about how SMC is given to children, the importance of completing all doses, and when the SMC campaign would be conducted. In this way, mothers understood the importance of the SMC and knew when to be home so that the CDD could administer the first dose. This demonstration taught mothers how to administer the subsequent doses independently and keep their children safe from malaria.

Because of what she heard her pastor share during a sermon, Mrs. Abul learned about SMC and its importance. Kertere, her two-year-old daughter, has had malaria before, and Mrs Abul did not want to take the risk of her getting sick during the rainy season. Mrs Abul made sure she was at home when the CDD came to her home, even if this meant a day away from her farm. She learned how to use the SPAQ medication and when to give it to Kertere again. In time, Kertere has received all doses of SPAQ and remains healthy.

Thank God my Pastor was informed about the SMC campaign and announced it during church service for everyone to be available to access the services”

— Mrs. Abul, Adi, Etilo ward

Adi community, Mrs. Abul, and Kertere’s stories are a testament to the power of community engagement and providing messages that build trust about SMC. PMI and Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria’s contributions to the SMC campaigns and the involvement of respected religious leaders created community trust, understanding, and active participation, leading to significant participation in the SMC campaign. This contributes to the overall well-being of children in the community.

Written by: Edoziem Valentine, Program Officer II – Documentation & Knowledge Management Officer, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria, and Victor Ona, Senior Program Officer/State Coordinator – Benue, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria