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On the Front Lines of the Fight Against Malaria

Posted: 06/29/10 12:28 PM ET

Meredith Horowski is student from the University of Michigan on a week-long trip with the ONE Campaign to Rwanda. Below is one of her posts from the ground.

Our second day in Rwanda was just as incredible as the first. After a great visit at the TRAC plus clinic, we headed to the US embassy to meet with the Charge d'Affaires, Anne Casper. She told us a little bit about her work in various embassies around the world, and why Rwanda has been one of her favorite tours. Casper spoke of the sophistication of Rwandan culture, with its rich oral traditions, social complexities, and welcoming citizens. Her fondness for Rwanda and its people was something we all could relate to. Not only is this an amazingly beautiful country, but Rwandans also seem to be some of the friendliest people in the world -- they wave and smile as we pass, and young children shout "Hello Mzungu (white person)!" while giving us the thumbs up. As the Charge explained, the Rwandan people are a large part of the country's recent progress. For us five students, this was our first time in an embassy, and we joked that it was fun to be back on American soil, in Rwanda. I also think Capser uncovered our harbored desires to become ambassadors.

The next stop on our health day tour was the malaria clinic in Kigali. While many regions in Rwanda are considered at risk for malaria, treatment and prevention of this disease represents one of Rwanda's biggest success stories -- and proof that foreign aid does work. Thanks to funding from the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI), Rwanda has drastically increased its distribution of bed nets and malaria medication to people across the country, and trained over 40,000 community health workers.

At the malaria clinic, we watched as a mother and her baby were tested and treated for malaria during one of these worker training sessions. We also learned about the clinic's new integrated health system. The health worker not only tested the mother and daughter for malaria, but also for pneumonia and diarrhea, which can exacerbate health problems for malaria patients. Because of this new "one stop shop" for treatment, provided by workers invested in the health of their community, children like the one we saw in the Kigali clinic are much more likely to survive after contracting malaria.

ONE then accompanied these newly trained health workers on bumpy ride to a home visit. According to the clinic director, these visits are crucial in reaching rural areas of Rwanda with malaria treatment. And the results are incredible. Since receiving funding from PMI, the proportion of deaths attributed to malaria fell from 41% to %16, and proportion of bed nets used in children under five increased from 13% to 58%. The home visit, where we were surrounded by children, allowed us to put faces with the statistics. These were children that could stay healthy thanks to funding from PMI and Rwanda's commitment to integrated malaria treatment and prevention.

We spent a great afternoon at the clinic learning about Rwanda's progress, and as we were leaving the clinic, we experienced more of that familiar Rwandan hospitality. Everyone in the clinic got up to sing and dance to a traditional African song. They even persuaded us five OCCers to join them. We laughed more than anything else as we tried to dance and clap along, but it was great to be apart of such a friendly community and its traditions. Although I left the clinic convinced I have two left feet when it comes to African dance, I was also more persuaded than ever that Rwanda has made incredible strides since its tragedies in 1994, both in its health initiatives and the unity of citizens.