When Leonadi was 19-years-old, his firstborn baby became seriously ill. He took him to a local witch doctor (a traditional healer) who told him the child was bewitched. By the time anyone realised that it was actually severe malaria, it was too late. His son had convulsions and died. That experience shaped Leonadi’s life and drove him to dedicate it to helping combat malaria.
Trained by Tanzania Communication and Development Center (TCDC) – a project supported by Comic Relief and GSK - Leonadi volunteers as a Community Change Agent (CCA) at a local health dispensary in Kigoma, Tanzania, where he lives. CCAs are volunteer health workers who teach families about malaria and how to protect themselves from the disease. As well as passing on vital education to people who visit the clinic, he meets with small business groups, such as the local tailors, as well as community or church groups to tell them how to stay safe and urges them to pass the message onto their customers, neighbours and friends.
Leonadi tells us that previously, most people in his community did not know what malaria was, how they got the disease, or how best to get treated – with many using traditional herbs instead of prescribed medication. But, over the last two years, he has seen huge progress, and malaria rates have dropped:
“First and foremost, everyone who realises that they have flu like symptoms don’t take any medicine without going to a health centre to be diagnosed. Secondly, you can get 50 patients in a dispensary and only eight or nine are positive for malaria, which is a great improvement, and not only that, those diagnosed with malaria got to finish their dosage as prescribed.”
Leonadi feels proud that as a CCA he has seen the community embracing the bed net as a preventative measure (one of the lessons he teaches) and people now say they fully understand how to take malaria medicine. Even his children know more about malaria, and his family are proud and supportive of his efforts to tackle malaria within his community.
“If you were to ask my child to tell you about malaria medicines, all my children know about them. Not only that, I am happy because when I go on my errands to educate the communities, my family knows where I am and what I’m doing, since they too support me in my activities. It is my pride that my family has knowledge of malaria and in my work, they are really supportive of my efforts,” he adds.
So far, TCDC has reached 300,000 people across 1,000 villages in Geita and Kigoma, western Tanzania, through their Community Change Agents over the past two years, thanks to funding from Comic Relief and GSK. Fewer people are getting malaria and the communities are the winning the fight. There is still a long way to go as globally, a child still dies from the disease every two minutes, but progress is being made, and it’s being driven by determined people like Leonadi.