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Working Alongside Religious Leaders to Prevent and Treat Malaria in Guinea

USAID StopPalu+ project trains religious leaders to disseminate malaria control messages in their communities

Despite progress, malaria continues to be the most burdensome communicable disease in Guinea, with the entire population of 12.1 million at risk.

The USAID StopPalu+ project, led by RTI under the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), is a five-year project (2017-2022) focused on supporting the Government of Guinea to reduce malaria-related morbidity and mortality by 75% compared with 2016 levels. This encompasses multiple interventions in malaria prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, including:

  • Increasing the number of households that own long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLINs)
  • Increasing the use of intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in pregnancy during antenatal care visits
  • Improving the quality of malaria case management services at both health facility and community levels
  • Increasing malaria prevention among young children (ages 3–59 months) during the rainy season; and 
  • Increasing community involvement in malaria control activities

One of the main ways the project has improved community involvement in malaria control activities is by involving religious leaders in disseminating information. 

Religious and community leaders have deep roots in local communities and can play an important role in educating communities on how to prevent and treat malaria by influencing knowledge, attitudes and beliefs, and helping people adopt health-seeking behaviors. In Guinea—where much of the population is Muslim—imams, or prayer leaders, are widely respected and seen as integral parts of their communities.

Building the Capacity of Religious Leaders to Educate Their Communities About Malaria

StopPalu+ supported the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) to implement the “Religious Leaders against Malaria” strategy, which focuses on preparing Muslim religious leaders for their involvement in the fight against malaria at the community level. As part of the strategy, the project worked with the NMCP and other partners to develop a “Social Mobilization Guide: Islam and Malaria.” The guide includes information about malaria transmission, preventive measures and healthy behaviors linked with malaria prevention, malaria case management, and the role religious leaders can play in communicating this information to their communities through prayers and sermons in mosques, religious lessons in schools, and religious ceremonies.

The guide is available in both French and Arabic for ease of use. The project used this guide to organize training of trainer workshops in the Labé and Boké regions for 40 religious leaders. During these sessions, participants worked to develop sermons in French and Arabic that incorporated malaria control messages into hadiths, or sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, that were focused on healthy behaviors. 

At the end of these training sessions, the trainers selected the four best trainers from each region to train the rest of the religious leaders in their districts. In addition to these workshops, StopPalu+ has trained more than 1,000 imams throughout 19 districts, selecting the imams of the largest and most frequented mosques to receive training to allow for broader dissemination of messages. 

Mobilizing Communities in Guinea in the Fight Against Malaria

Since StopPalu+ began working with religious leaders in 2017, imams have shared malaria prevention and control messages with more than 70,000 people. These messages have included information about the importance of families sleeping under LLINs every night as a preventive measure and increasing awareness of the need for infants and children under five to take antimalarial drugs to protect them from contracting malaria.

an Imam teaching about proper use of LLINs

StopPalu+, in collaboration with the NMCP and religious leaders, has used a variety of mass communication techniques to spread malaria control messages and change behaviors. For example, ahead of national campaigns to distribute LLINs throughout the country, the project produced radio and television spots featuring religious leaders to raise awareness about malaria including key messages on the advantages of LLINs, how to convert rectangular LLINs to circular ones, and information about distribution. So far, religious leaders have participated in 170 interactive radio programs and 92 roundtable discussions to promote malaria control services and products. Religious leaders also worked with StopPalu+ and partners to produce posters and calendars (seen below) featuring the first imam of the country that are meant to educate citizens about the regular and correct use of LLINs. 

StopPalu+ calendar to disseminate malaria control messages

This partnership has had a positive impact on community awareness and participation in malaria interventions. Due in part to the involvement of religious leaders, the percent of children that received all four rounds of antimalarial drugs through seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) campaigns has increased from 72% in 2017 to 89% in 2020, and the percent of households that received LLINs during mass distribution campaigns has gone from 89% in 2016 to 95% in 2019. 

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, religious leaders have been and will continue to be important partners in the fight against malaria. When distributing antimalarial drugs to more than 300,000 children during the 2020 SMC campaign, StopPalu+ faced reluctance from some caregivers due to fear of COVID-19. Religious leaders played a key role in putting communities at ease by giving sermons in mosques, taking part in interactive radios programs and roundtable discussions, and conducting advocacy in households. 

Learn more about RTI’s work in malaria control and elimination.