"Pictures Are Crowd Pullers …"
Art, culture, and the Internet combine to
intervene against malaria in Uganda
"Pictures are crowd pullers," says William Lubega, a fourth-year medical student in Uganda. "They look at the pictures and get the message."
The message: Mosquitoes cause malaria. Not ripe mangoes. Not witchcraft.
The images and words, which speak directly to local beliefs in villages in eastern Uganda, may be about to turn the tide against malaria there and, perhaps eventually, throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They are part of the first MedlinePlus Tutorial on Malaria for Africa (www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/africa/malaria.html).
The tutorial was developed by a team of students, including Lubega, faculty and artists from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Makerere, in Kampala, working with Julia Royall, chief of international programs at the National Library of Medicine and Fulbright Scholar to Uganda, 2007-08. A team from the NLM Public Services Division collaborated on the project through the Internet.
"We wanted to see if such a 'health information intervention' from NLM through medlineplus.gov could make a difference," says Royall. In addition to the online materials, available to anyone with access to the Internet, health workers use a laminated presentation to explain how malaria works. Colorful poster versions of the tutorial attract mothers, too, and an audio version in four languages is available for radio broadcast.
Both treatable and preventable, malaria kills as many as 110,000 Ugandan children under five every year. Over time, the Makerere University researchers will be able to tell whether they've made a difference in the fight against malaria.