engaging children in the fight against malaria

Have you ever found yourself eyeing a mosquito as it buzzed around, seemingly fixated on making you its next meal? It’s an intricate dance of advances and retreats, with the female mosquito meticulously orchestrating its movements to achieve a precise landing. But mosquitoes aren’t the only ones performing: across the globe, communities are harnessing the power of dance to rally against malaria, engaging people in the collective effort to combat this deadly disease.

The success disease prevention strategies hinge on the wholehearted participation of the communities they are meant to benefit. While much attention has rightly been given to safeguarding pregnant women and young children, it’s now evident that school-aged children (~5 to 15 years old) represent a crucial yet often overlooked demographic. In Malawi, this age group exhibits the highest prevalence of Plasmodium infection, and they’re also less likely to use bed nets or seek treatment. Given their susceptibility to malaria and their role as potential parasite carriers, engaging them becomes paramount in the battle against the disease.

So, how do we effectively involve them in malaria prevention efforts?

Engaging school-aged children can be tricky, as many of you may know from your own experiences with kids or your own childhood memories. Traditional methods for raising awareness about malaria control, like handing out flyers or holding meetings, don’t quite capture their attention. But there’s good news! Creative minds, including artists and malaria experts, have joined forces worldwide to find a solution. They’re using the power of dance to bridge this gap, transforming serious messages into vibrant and captivating performances that speak directly to children.

Dance is an essential part of society

Dance is deeply woven into the fabric of our daily lives, manifesting in various forms across diverse cultures as a means to connect, celebrate, and find inner peace. Its profound impact on health, both physically and psychologically, is widely acknowledged and studied. Moreover, dance fosters a sense of community by bringing people together. Consider the enchanting performances of ballet, the captivating narratives of musicals, or the engaging spectacles of TV shows like Strictly Come Dancing. Dance serves as a vital avenue for entertainment, storytelling, and communication, especially in regions where literacy rates are lower, exerting a unique and far-reaching influence on society.

Dancing against malaria in Cambodia

Children from a local community in Cambodia dressed up as mosquitoes, to help educate their community about malaria prevention during the show.

Nicky Almasy

In Cambodia, dance programmes were used by researchers from the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit and the Battambang Provincial Health Department to engage children in endemic areas. Malaria experts worked alongside a local drama group for the ‘Village Drama against Malaria project’ to blend traditional Cambodian dance, drama and music in a show to raise awareness of malaria prevention. The feedback they received was overwhelmingly positive: villagers found the activities highly entertaining and their preferred method of community engagement. A young 14-year-old-girl noted We will remember this our whole lives!” . The enthusiasm displayed by children in this activity, along with the natural uptake of important messages, provides optimism for the success of these creative initiatives.

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Dance drama’s in Ghana

In rural villages of northern Ghana, researchers teamed up with local Health services to educate communities about malaria prevention through dance drama! This unique blend of traditional music, dance, and storytelling, infused with humour and vibrant costumes, captured the community’s attention while delivering important messages. The team aimed to reach a broad audience effectively, positively influencing behaviour and promoting better health outcomes. They sought the expertise of professional urban artists, and developed a show and a song with the following lines:

– Mr Mosquito, where are you going?

– I am heading towards the home of humans.

– May I know your reason for going there?

– Know that my reason is just to infect them with disease.

 – Oh mosquito, do not give me sleepless night! (ayaa yiyeeh) ….

They succeeded in attracting large crowds in the communities. To ensure the initiative’s continuity, they switched to training local youth groups to perform similar acts, empowering the community in the process. What’s truly exciting is that these methods aren’t limited to Ghana—they can be applied in any society where music and storytelling are cherished, offering a promising pathway to improving community health.

Attentive audience in Ziong; Zakus and Frishkopf visible at right.

Taken from Frishkopf et al, 2017 Legon Journal of the Humanities

Dancing in Ugandan schools

In Uganda, schools are adopting creative approaches to keep kids in classrooms and malaria out of homes. Through the “Malaria Smart School” project, they established “Health clubs” for children. They composed music and organised dance routines related to malaria prevention, and performed for their community. Additionally, every classroom in these schools featured a “malaria corner,” where students created informative boards filled with drawings. By integrating arts with public health education at school, children not only get to explore their creative side but also play an active role in educating their community about malaria.

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Viral songs and dance

Radio and social media are highly effective to connect with large groups. In 2018, the Global Youth Groove Band collaborated with Scientific Animation Without Borders (SAWBO) in Kenya to produce a malaria prevention song. It explores the challenges of malaria, its symptoms, and preventative measures in a blend of English and Swahili. The song has been broadcast on Kenyan radio stations and is complemented by a visually engaging music video.

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More globally, the ‘Zero malaria starts with me’ initiative launched the #MosquitoClapChallenge on TikTok and Instagram. This featured a catchy song and dance aimed at involving the younger generations in the fight against malaria. Choreographed by Ezinne Asinugo, the dance transformed the act of shooing mosquitoes away into a simple 4-step routine that anyone, anywhere, could share across various social media platforms.

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Dance and music serve as powerful tools to empower children, and by combining them with health messages, we can create exciting opportunities that blend fun with learning. As one of the song goes: “Malaria, malaria, it’s time to go!”

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