The Power of Volunteers: NetWorks and the Peace Corps Team Up for Malaria Prevention

The Power of Volunteers: NetWorks and the Peace Corps Team Up for Malaria Prevention
Dakar, Senegal—In Senegal, there is a myriad of non-profits working on malaria prevention, which offers a variety of opportunities to collaborate. NetWorks, a USAID funded malaria prevention project, has teamed up with Peace Corps Senegal to encourage optimal bed net use and care behaviors to prevent malaria nationwide. 
On January 13, 2012, two of NetWorks’ field agents (focal points) worked with Peace Corps to train Volunteers (PCVs) on how to conduct home visits and use counseling cards featuring key messages about net use and net care and repair that are being promoted across the country. Participating PCVs came from regions throughout the country, including Tambacounda, Kedougou, Kolda, and Kaolack, thus representing a diverse array of cultures, ethnic groups, and languages across Senegal. Over a two-month period following the trainings, hundreds of home visits were conducted by the PCVs with their counterparts and information about the visits were recorded, including information on how nets were being hung and how different messages were being interpreted.
On April 2, 2012, a follow-up meeting with the PCVs and NetWorks was held to talk about the home visit experience, and ways to improve the counseling cards and messages.  Using nets every night and all year long continues to be a challenge in certain communities, in part because of preferences for conical, or circular-shaped nets that hang from one central point, or for nets that are longer and easier to tuck under a mattress or mat.
For a bit of background, during Senegal’s Universal Coverage (UC) mass distributions, rectangular nets are distributed free of charge and people are encouraged to adapt the nets so that they can be hung according to their personal needs. However, during recent field work collected for NetWorks’ “Culture of Net Use” (CONU) Study, it was discovered that certain modifications were resulting in tears in the fabric at the top of the net. Adding support at the top of net using simple and easy-to-find materials was going to need to be a critical piece of all future messages about net hanging and transformation.
NetWorks trained 11 PCVs during the meeting on how to transform small, rectangular mosquito nets into circular nets that are durable and can fit larger sized beds, and thereby accommodate more people. The transformations are relatively easy for a tailor to do, requiring just a few extra meters of fabric, and a bit of wire or tubing formed into a circle to add extra support to the area where the net is being hung. The PCVs were also shown how to transform the nets by knotting the fabric over the circular tubing in the event that finding a tailor posed a problem for certain families.
Each PCV at the NetWorks training was given a transformed net to take back to their communities so that community members could see the nets and make suggestions.  Some PCVs talked about bringing the prototype to a tailor to have him recreate a transformed net himself. Aside from the work in the villages, PCVs are bringing these net modifications to a larger audience. In the region of Kolda, one volunteer will be taking her transformed net to the 2nd annual Kolda Regional Fair as part of a booth about malaria.  She plans to hang up a rectangular net next to a transformed net in order to do comparisons of space covered by both nets. The Kolda Regional Fair unites government groups, nonprofits and development agencies, artisanal workers, the agricultural sector, and the public to see the types of work happening in the region. The net transformation technique shared with PCVs will also be used as part of the official UC promotion activities in the regions of Louga and Ziguinchor this summer. 
NetWorks and the PCVs will reunite in mid-June to talk about what they accomplished with the nets, how they were received, and how the modifications are catching on and being replicated. While it is still too early to determine the response at the village level, there is a strong level of excitement.
PCV Jessie Seiler described the Peace Corps-NetWorks relationship as “strong because NetWorks has a big impact on what [Peace Corps] can do and helps to keep them connected with the National Malaria control Program (NMCP). At the same time, the PCVs help to provide ongoing feedback about how things are happening and being received at the community level.” Living closely with their communities, PCVs offer a local perspective and are able to help NetWorks pilot new interventions before they are scaled up.  In March 2011, the Peace Corps kicked up their malaria prevention efforts through the Stomping Out Malaria in Africa initiative, which seeks to build a community of malaria professionals in order to eradicate malaria in Africa by 2015. The Peace Corps-NetWorks partnership in Senegal is full of opportunities to positively impact the lives of the Senegalese on a large scale in the effort to reduce the burden of malaria in the country.
A special thank you to our interviewees, NetWorks’ point person, Ardo Faye, and Senegal PCV Jessie Seiler for their insight and assistance with this story.
For more information on the NetWorks project, please visit: /
For more information on Peace Corps Senegal, please visit:
For more information on the Peace Corps’ Stomping Out Malaria in Africa initiative, please visit:                    

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