Can Musicians Stop Malaria?

dscn3539sm.JPGJenerali Ulimwengu in the East African on Saturday talked about the efforts of Tanzania’s musicians to get involved in fighting malaria and commented cleverly that, “Let’s welcome our artistes as they remind us that ‘malaria is unacceptable,’ but the government should take up its responsibility and lead the nation in creating a mosquito-free country. Else, those beautiful sounds of our Lady JDs will only serve us as lullabies while our lady insects are hard at work.”

Lady JD is among 18 musicians/singers to join in what the Tanzania Daily News calls the “biggest ever musical collaboration among top local artists.” The music video in question “is blended with soothing voices and hip hop lyrics. President Kikwete sporting very casual attire appears in the video, urging everyone in the country to stand up and play a part in eradicating malaria.”

So how is such a video supposed to combat malaria? According to the Tanzania Daily News …

‘Malaria Haikubaliki’ is an initiative urging Tanzanians to think differently about the disease with an objective of increasing practices to prevent malaria such as consistently sleeping under an insecticide-treated mosquito, detecting and treating malaria early and ensuring antenatal care for pregnant women.

This experience harks back to the Africa Live Concert in 2005.  In addition to malaria-themed songs (see singers on YouTube), the concert featured “Information booths were set up at the stadium explaining how malaria is transmitted and how to use mosquito nets sprayed with insecticide to avoid infection.” An example of the songs comes from Youssou N’Dour (Senegal) –

Roll back malaria,
fight malaria, it’s so serious, clean up your area,
Roll back malaria,
don’t give them chances, not even places, to make a bite,
Roll back malaria,
fight malaria, it’s so serious, clean up your area,
Roll back malaria,
don’t give them places, not even chances, to make a bite …

In addition to responding to the messages in the songs, the audience and subsequent viewers on the web were encouraged to, “… make a financial contribution to the Roll Back Malaria cause can do so through the U.N. Foundation.”

It is not quite clear how these well staged efforts contribute to malaria fundraising or malaria behavior change.  Famous people feel good when they can make a visible statement about a health or development problem, and maybe the general public is inspired by celebrities to ‘do what I say.’ Evaluation of the effect of such efforts is certainly not easy.

In the end, while we sing our songs against malaria, we must go back to Jenerali Ulimwengu’s thoughts – if governments and donors do not supply the nets, medicines and insecticides all the way down to the grassroots, the ‘lady insects’ (female anopheles mosquitoes to be a little more accurate), will win the day.

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