Maasai and Malaria

The nomadic Maasai people of East Africa are certainly not immune to malaria. Research by Bussmann and colleagues shows a wealth of ethnomedical responses to the problem and points out that, “The Maasai pastoralists of Kenya and Tanzania use a large part of the plants in their environment for many uses in daily life.” Specifically, they reported that …

“Although malaria treatment is often available at health centers, the traditional use of herbs for the treatment of ‘malaria and fever’ is still common. The cures mostly involve the ingestion of purgative plant extracts, obtained by boiling plant material. In the Sekenani valley the most important species used to treat malaria were Achyranthes aspera, Warburgia salutaris, Combretum molle, Olea europaea, Sporobolus stapfianus, Teclea nobilis, Toddalia asiatica and Cissus quinquangularis.”

dscn6644sm.JPGLikewise Koch and co-researchers learned from three Maasai healers the names of 21 indigenous herbs used to treat malaria. “Of the species tested, over half were antiplasmodial, and all but one displayed selectivity for the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.”

A new NGO, Maasailand Health Project (MLHP) based in Washington State, USA, is trying to bring current anti-malaria technologies to a Maasai community in Tanzania. The project focuses on six boma or villages in an approximately 200 square mile area in which nearly 500 people live. MLHP’s “first shipment of 100 nets, 50 blood test kits, 30 treatments of medication, and training,” took place last month.

The group has been in touch with USAID and the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, so hopefully this effort can be integrated with the overall national malaria control program and thus be sustained. Integration of programming for nomadic people is crucial since none of the currently operating Global Fund malaria grants in either Tanzania or Kenya explicitly mention outreach to the Maasai.  The US President’s Malaria Initiative Malaria Operations Plans for both countries are also silent on the needs of the pastoralists.

Unfortunately Kenya’s unsuccessful Global Fund Round 9 malaria proposal intended to involve the Maasai Pastoralist Development Foundation. “This organization has an extensive community network which will be mobilized as part of BCC-Community Outreach. Its capacity will be built through the dual track PR as part of Community Systems Strengthening.”

National and cross-border malaria control efforts need to plan for and finance efforts to protect nomadic, migratory and minority populations from malaria. Without attention to the needs of these populations, malaria cannot be eliminated.

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