Peace Corps Volunteers are making a difference for people in host communities by working across Africa to prevent malaria, educate, and support people who are afflicted or at risk. From teaching families about the importance of sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets, to educating expectant mothers about preventive treatments for healthy birth, Peace Corps Volunteers are combating this treatable and preventable disease.
Malaria, an infection caused by the plasmodium parasite, has been a critical public health challenge for thousands of years. From the first recorded sighting in China in 2,700 BC, its signature high cyclical fever and anemia have gone on to kill hundreds of millions of people and the total number of infections is in the billions. In the year 2005 alone, World Health Organization estimates indicated that malaria infected between 350 and 500 million people and killed over 1 million, 90% of whom lived in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of those were children.
Since 2005, a massive international malaria control effort has begun to make significant progress. In 2010, WHO estimated that the number of malaria deaths annually had dropped to 655,000, with the majority of the decrease attributable to increased availability and usage of long lasting insecticide-treaded nets (LLINs). With the LLIN coverage across the continent reaching high levels, however, the potential for additional gains through net distributions diminishes. The international malaria prevention community, while maintaining high levels of net coverage, has increasingly turned its focus to training community health workers to diagnose and treat malaria in the home. As an organization supporting grassroots development, Peace Corps Volunteers work closely with CHWs across Africa.
The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then-Sen. John F.Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew a federal government agency devoted to world peace and friendship.
Throughout its history, the Peace Corps has adapted and responded to the issues of the times. In an ever-changing world, Peace Corps Volunteers have met new challenges with innovation, creativity, determination, and compassion. Malaria has been part of the Peace Corps experience from the beginning. In a 1961 memo to President Kennedy, Sargent Shriver, who spearheaded the creation of the Peace Corps and became its first director, outlined the three programmatic areas Peace Corps would address: education, food security, and malaria.
Since Sargent Shriver’s first malaria-focused Volunteers began their services in 1961, 200,000+ Americans have served in the Peace Corps, working in 139 countries in diverse sectors including agriculture, health education, small enterprise development, and conservation.
On May 5th, 2009, President Barack Obama announce the creation of the Global Health Initiative (GHI), an effort to coordinate the activities of all US governmental organizations engaged in health related foreign assistance. Since that time, Peace Corps has been working to deepen its integration with partners at the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and its constituent agencies: the National Institutes for Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
On April 25, 2011 Peace Corps launched its Stomping Out Malaria in Africa initiative at a World Malaria Day event at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington DC. Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams along with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and PMI Coordinator Admiral Timothy Ziemer advanced a grand vision for a unique collaboration between Peace Corps Volunteers in the field, US Government malaria prevention professionals at partner agencies, partner NGOs and host country institutions across Africa.
Peace Corps would train a cadre of highly specialized malaria prevention Volunteers – the Malaria Team – and embed those Volunteers in every malaria-focused organization in Africa with an urgent need for human resources. PMI would provide expert trainers, professional and technical mentoring of Malaria Team members and support in liaising with host country institutions and NGOs. Malaria Team Volunteers would make the organizations they worked in more effective and coordinate between those organizations and the field network of over 3,000 Volunteers in sub-Saharan Africa to bring the full focused effort of the Peace Corps Volunteer network to bear on the issue of malaria prevention.
Embedding Volunteers in partner organizations would create a significant increase in inter-organizational communication bandwidth. This increase in communicationwould lead to increased synergies among USG agencies and organizations funded by USG funds in line with the vision of the GHI.