W6 Activity: Malaria in West Africa

Malaria is a preventable and curable disease that is caused by parasites. The parasites enter the body through the bite of an infected mosquito. Transmission of malaria depends on many environmental factors including climate conditions which effect survival and number of mosquitos that carry the parasite. Young children, pregnant women, and travelers are most at risk for contracting malaria in areas of high transmission because they do not have immunity or is diminished.

Vector control is the most prevalent way of reducing malaria transmission. This is done through the use of insecticide mosquito nets. The World Health Organization has what it calls the Global Malaria Programme (GMP). They do many things but some of their responsibilities include: “setting, communicating and promoting the adoption of evidence-based norms, standards, policies, technical strategies, and guidelines keeping independent score of global progress; developing approaches for capacity building, systems strengthening, and surveillance; identifying threats to malaria control and elimination as well as new areas for action.”


The article I chose is about malaria in Tanzania where it is believed that it is the result of supernatural forces. They refer to the affliction as degedege. Prevention and intervention efforts therefore can be greatly helped when the beliefs and customs of the local populations are known and understood by policy makers and healthcare professionals. This article sought to measure the knowledge of participants about malaria and what efforts they take to prevent the disease.  They found that the local people were most likely to seek treatment by a traditional healer because they saw the disease as its own entity and that could be why preventative actions were not taken


Spjeldnaes, Astrid and Kitua, Andrew. “Education and knowledge helps combating malaria, but not degedege: a cross-sectional study in Rufiji, Tanzania.” Malaria Journal, 2014.

World Health Organization. “Malaria.” Reviewed April 2015. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs094/en/

4 thoughts on “W6 Activity: Malaria in West Africa

  1. Hi, Payton!
    As I’m sure you would agree, this anthropologist, or group of anthropologists, seemed to focus mainly on the ethnomedical approach to explore the views that the people of Tanzania have on the infectious disease of malaria.
    Because ethnomedicine can be considered a comparison of varying forms of treatment among differing ethnic groups, it may have been beneficial to learn about the ways that the Tanzanian people treated the disease before deciding whether or not they wanted to intervene. We saw that many of the people were aware of how the disease was transmitted, but had little knowledge of how it actually worked. Considering an infectious bacterium to be caused by supernatural forces can only be a detriment to our attempt to reduce the number of incidents and transmissions.
    Therefore, with our knowledge of the disease, we can provide better educations and help people to understand the truth about malaria.

  2. Hi Payton,
    After reading your post I would say that the anthropologist who wrote the article you discuss is following the ethnomedical approach to understanding how malaria is affecting the people of West Africa. I believe that this is the main approach the author was using because you talk about understanding the beliefs and cultures in the affected region in order to treat the disease effectively. Understanding the beliefs and culture of a society is a major part of the ethnomedical approach. The theory behind this is obviously that if the culture or beliefs of a population are preventing the doctors from treating a disease, then the disease will go untreated.
    By applying this anthropological approach to medicine, doctors are better able to treat diseases such as malaria. One way this is true is that rather than treating the disease strictly medically, an anthropologist can help to solve the underlying cultural influences leading to the spread of the disease. If an anthropologist can learn what influences of the culture lead to continuing spread of a disease they can possibly try to influence the culture in a positive way that will slow or even stop the spread of disease by preventable means.

  3. Hello Payton! Your post was very fascinating to follow and definitely showcases the importance of ethnomedical understandings through anthropology. The anthropologist was able to assess the best way of treating the malaria by understanding what the people on the area believed in, in this case, the belief of the degedege. For those under who participated in the cross-survey, there is substantial comprehension of the cause as well the possible treatment of the malaria but in terms of the discomfort and other symptoms associated with it, those are put under the beliefs of supernatural forces that can hinder the healing process. As an anthropologist, this information is vital as it is at this time when the symptoms are present that the decision for which type of care could either help or hinder the patient. 96.4% of the people knew where to get possible (biomedical) but it didn’t necessarily mean they would get it. Using that knowledge of how strong the belief of the degedege can be, healthcare providers are now more equipped to inform their patients on what their symptoms means and possibly alleviate the possible stress of finding the best treatment for the malaria. Giving some insight to the symptoms from an anthropological point of view can allow for a more efficient and swift provision of healthcare.

  4. I agree with the above statements. The anthropologist that studied this particular ailment looked at it from an ethnomedical perspective. The anthropological approach was to play into what the locals believed which happened to be the degedege in order to effectively treat the patients. By mixing the cultural background of these patients with the medication and the known benefits it would present to those suffering from malaria, they were able to treat the patients. That’s an accurate portrayal of just how important anthropology is to medicine. They go hand in hand. It’s vital that they understood the beliefs behind the degedege in order to understand that they needed to treat malaria. It’s an effective approach, and if it’s not understood it can present cultural barriers. Malaria is commonly spread through infected mosquitos carrying the disease. When a person is bitten they are infected. Another disease similar to malaria is West Nile Virus, as it is also carried by mosquitoes. The implementation of antimalarials, netting, and bug spray can help keep malaria at bay. Medications such as Mefloquine, Chloroquine, Doxycycline, and Atavaquone can help reduce occurances of malaria in third world countries. Also mosquitos are more prevalent along stagnant water, and so it is advised to keep away from standing water.

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