This piece originally ran on USAID Publications.
How health workers in Mali help young children survive deadly illnesses like malaria and diarrhea
Five-year-old Fousseiny Coulibaly was running a fever. His mother, Setou, was worried it might be caused by malaria, one of the leading causes of childhood illness and death in their community in Mali.
They rushed over to the nearby home of community health worker Founèba Traoré.
“We can rely on Founèba— she is always available to provide the care we need when we need it,” said Setou.
There were over 3 million cases of malaria in Mali in 2021.
Community health workers like Founèba are critical for ensuring quick and accurate diagnoses, saving lives, and helping national malaria programs determine where and how to focus malaria services, while also providing critical care to help children survive other potentially deadly diseases.
To Setou’s relief, the test was negative for malaria.
After further diagnosis, Founèba determined that the fever was related to diarrhea, which can also be dangerous for young children when untreated. She gave Setou hydration tablets and guidance to help Fousseiny recover quickly.
“I AM THANKFUL FOR THIS CARE,” SAID SETOU. “FOUNÈBA’S ARRIVAL IN WOULOUFIENA HAS BEEN A GREAT RELIEF FOR THE COMMUNITY, ESPECIALLY PARENTS. BEFORE HER, WE HAD TO TRAVEL 12 MILES TO THE TINGOLÉ HEALTH FACILITY. AND IF OUR CHILDREN GOT SICK AT NIGHT, WE HAD NO IMMEDIATE CARE.”
Community health workers like Founèba are an essential lifeline for sick children.
“What I do is important for my community,” Founèba said. “When they fall sick, they receive treatment quickly and easily at a lower cost since they don’t have to travel to a health clinic.”
Last year, the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) provided malaria tests and medicines, training, and supervision for 100,000 community health workers globally.
In countries such as Mali, where community-based malaria care is part of an integrated package of services that include pneumonia and diarrhea, PMI supported training and supervision for nearly 4,000 Malian community health workers in 2022, strengthening the delivery of primary and frontline health care overall.
Investments in community health workers, along with other malaria prevention tools — such as insecticide-treated nets and preventive medicines — have contributed to an almost 50% drop in all-cause mortality rates of children under 5 years of age since PMI was launched in Mali in 2008.
Along with hosting patients in her home, Founèba travels around Wouloufiena to check on her neighbors’ health and drives to the Tingolé health facility to stock up on supplies and receive training.
Founèba also hosts group health education events to share information and answer questions.
“THE EDUCATIONAL FORUMS I CONDUCT HELP MANY UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF SEEKING HEALTH CARE EARLY, PARTICIPATING IN SEASONAL MALARIA PREVENTION CAMPAIGNS, AND PROPER USE OF BED NETS,” SHE EXPLAINED.
“I’ve noticed that children who take anti-malarial medication during the seasonal campaigns and regularly use bed nets hardly ever need to come for treatment.”
Founèba is hopeful for a malaria-free Mali in her lifetime where children grow up without fearing a mosquito bite.
She and nearly 4,000 other Malian community health workers are on the frontlines of fighting malaria — and other illnesses that cut short young lives. They are crucial to achieving a brighter future for their country.
Learn more about USAID’s work to fight malaria and save lives through the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative. Follow @PMIgov on Twitter or visit PMI’s website.
About this story
The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) supports 24 partner countries in sub-Saharan Africa and three programs across the Greater Mekong Subregion in Southeast Asia to control and eliminate malaria. Led by the USAID and implemented together with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PMI delivers cost-effective, lifesaving malaria interventions—such as insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying, and essential medicines—and invests in health workers and health systems to accelerate the global fight against this deadly disease. Thanks to the generosity of the American people, PMI benefits more than 700 million people at risk of malaria worldwide each year.
PMI supports health workers in Mali through PMI Impact Malaria, PMI’s flagship global malaria service delivery project led by Population Services International in partnership with Jhpiego, Medical Care Development Global Inc., and the Malaria Elimination Institute at UCSF. In support of PMI’s goal to fight malaria and save lives, U.S. PMI Impact Malaria is working with PMI partner countries to strengthen malaria diagnosis, treatment, and drug-based prevention for those most at risk, particularly young children and pregnant women.
Narrative by Taylor Prochnow (PMI Impact Malaria Headquarters) and Dr Beh KAMATE (PMI Impact Malaria Mali); photos by Mwangi Kirubi for PMI Impact Malaria