Pilgrimage with a Dual Purpose: Religion Meets Malaria in Senegal

24 Apr 2012
A NetWorks "caravan" shares malaria prevention messages with a crowd in Touba.

A NetWorks “caravan” shares malaria prevention messages with a crowd in Touba.

For many Muslims across Senegal, the annual pilgrimage called Magal is an opportunity for religious observance. But for the NetWorks project, the 2012 pilgrimage offered an opportunity of a different sort.

The Magal pilgrimage increases the population of Touba, Senegal, a city in the center of the country, threefold, from 1 million to an estimated 3 million people. In June 2011, NetWorks assisted the Senegalese National Malaria Control Program in distributing 530,000 nets to the permanent residents of Touba. What better time, thought NetWorks program staff, to follow up on the 2011 distribution and current influx of visitors to the city than by mass disseminating malaria prevention messages?

The NetWorks project is a five-year, USAID-funded global project that seeks to improve and establish sustainable net access and use. JHU∙CCP leads the project’s efforts on Senegal’s universal coverage campaign on long-lasting insecticide treated nets (LLINs).

In order to make the NetWorks campaign in Touba a success, NetWorks adapted its malaria prevention slogan specifically for the region. The slogan, Toute la famille, Toute l’annee, Toutes les nuits (The whole family, Every night, All year long), and net use counseling cards were translated into Wolof and written using Arabic script (known as Wolofol), to better suit the Arabic-reading population, representing the first time a health campaign catered to the local language needs of the city.

The NetWorks team capitalized on the efforts to prepare the city for the arrival of the Magal pilgrims. A “caravan” touring truck traveled around the city where Touba residents had gathered to clean, bringing mobile malaria prevention presentations, including games and activities that addressed proper methods to hang and use mosquito nets.

NetWorks partnered with religious and local leaders in Touba to disseminate malaria prevention messages by encouraging them to include the prevention messages in their speeches during Magal, and developed malaria-focused radio spots and public service announcements to inform listeners about the importance of consistent mosquito nets use. The project also integrated malaria prevention messaging into other disease prevention messages that aired on the radio during the pilgrimage.

Finally, seeking to encourage continued net use and malaria prevention behaviors following Magal, NetWorks worked with women’s groups and daaras (Koranic schools) in Touba to ensure that the Koranic students properly use their mosquito nets.

“NetWorks’ campaign in Touba was a success because we tailored our efforts to the unique opportunities presented by Magal,” explains Mamadou Lamine Gaye, a NetWorks point person. NetWorks will build off the success in Touba and continue to adapt our work to the community level in order to reach as many people as possible, within Senegal as well as the other countries where NetWorks has a presence.

Learn more about NetWorks.

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