Malaria is both a disease of poverty and cause of poverty. It is preventable and treatable, yet life-threatening to those without the multiple interventions needed to prevent or treat it. 91% of all malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, causing the region to carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden.
In the last five years, Zambia has made great progress in preventing and controlling the spread of malaria, but it still affects over four million Zambians and kills more children under the age of five than any other disease or illness. While many international NGOs are providing immunisation, research, medical supplies and mosquito nets, remote areas are often not reached.
By focusing on these neglected areas, one small charity, The Butterfly Tree, has produced life-changing results with its malaria prevention programme. Yet the organisation is not what you might expect – it is a volunteer-run, grass-roots body which channels an impressive 97% of donations directly into local projects that support orphans and rural communities.
Founder of the charity, Jane Kaye-Bailey was enjoying a safari trip in 2006 and staying at a five-star hotel by Victoria Falls, when an opportunity arose to visit a local school in Mukuni Village. She was stunned to discover that half of the 1,000 students there were orphans, and later learnt that out of a 16 million population, HIV and AIDS had pushed many families onto the brink of poverty, and 1.2 million Zambian children had lost their parents.
Moved by her experience, Jane was determined to improve the lives of the vulnerable children she had met and returned with her son to offer further assistance by taking necessary supplies to distribute to the local school. After a number of visits and gaining knowledge on the ground, by 2007 she had established a charity called The Butterfly Tree both in the UK and Zambia, with a core mission to support children without parents. A decade later, the organisation has made impressive progress helping to significantly advance education, health, water, community facilities and malaria prevention.
For ten years now, The Butterfly Tree has run a malaria prevention programme in the Mukuni Chiefdom, often providing mosquito nets to help the Zambian government manage shortfalls. In response to the growing resistance to treatment drugs and insecticide resistance in mosquitoes however, in 2015 the charity introduced a different approach. A new safe insecticidal coating was painted onto the inside of dwellings, which causes mosquitoes who land on the surface to fly away and die. This method works in conjunction with harmless larvicide granules which are placed in stagnant water to prohibit mosquito larvae from developing.
By controlling the mosquitoes both at the larval stage and killing them as opposed to merely repelling them with the new insecticide, this joint intervention has seen a record zero malaria deaths in the Mukuni Chiefdom in the past five years. In December 2017, a World Health Organization (WHO) consultant visited where The Butterfly Tree’s local environmental officer was based and was astounded at the data she had collected which evidenced the lowest cases of malaria in the district.
To ensure accuracy of the information that has been collected, Jane says they work on a daily basis with Sibeso “who is totally committed to eradicating malaria.” Sibeso’s statistics according to Jane, are so well-matched with exceptional results that the government of Zambia analysed them to check their accuracy. Jane remarks:
“We’ve got it all documented, we just need another proof that this intervention is working. We are very transparent and open to sharing the progress to donors to explain where their funding is going.”
Working with local volunteers on the ground in Zambia also makes it easier to source projects and solutions. Jane says that as locals, “they are familiar with the area and communities, so there is less time needed for immersion and less discrepancies with communities feeling as though foreigners are treading on their toes and intruding.”
Most importantly, working with people on the ground enables the organisation to operate in remote places where a lot of other charities do not venture. Heat, malaria and risk of getting stranded deters many INGOs from even attempting to access these locations. Jane drove for seven hours last summer through difficult terrain – roads with pot holes and roads that weren’t roads at all. She was headed towards Moomba, a community that had never received direct charity support, despite 46% of the area’s population being affected by malaria.
After assessing the situation on the ground and with the help of the Zambian government, two Butterfly Tree volunteers were able to distribute mosquito nets to 400 dwellings and spray the insecticidal coating. Within a month and to date, a medical report has found no new cases of malaria in Moomba.
In November last year, Jane was a runner-up for the AidEx 2017 Humanitarian Hero Award, an achievement she was overwhelmed by, where she describes malaria prevention as “the best Christmas present she could ask for”. Now, with a decade’s worth of data and an eagerness to share it with the appropriate organisations like WHO, The Butterfly Tree is providing hope that malaria in Zambia can be beaten.