With Finding Malaria, ‘we’re changing lives’

South Africa’s health system is in shambles and this is the blame game. But in the small village of Pershing West in KwaZulu-Natal is a collective effort underway to stem the tide of killer diseases in the province.

From babies in a church preschool to senior citizens watching TV at home, the members of The Variant Hunters help them as they juggle lifestyle changes with taking on new work. They are working to raise awareness of the potentially deadly mutations occurring in South Africa.

Their work is aided by a grant from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The Link Project is a non-profit organisation where everything is free to the people using this innovative health technique. Group coordinator Sonke Tsekeela is in his mid-fifties. He says he feels like his life is starting to improve.

“Although life is tough. It’s tough for everyone. Life is tougher, it’s tough with the fact of losing a spouse or having two jobs.

“I was in the ministry of health for ten years, I managed to make it, but when I got to be 54 years old I didn’t work anymore, I decided I didn’t want to get up at the crack of dawn and I didn’t want to be dead in the morning.

“So, I started to volunteer, to mentor people here and now, I have a wheelchair for day care so I can come in and out at the office, I can come in, I can come in and have lunch.”

Malaria is the major killer in South Africa and this disease has been highlighted as one of the top threats to global survival.

Dr Gert Seingsma from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation explains that the health service in South Africa is in crisis.

“This is a huge crisis for South Africa, it is a big health issue that the government has struggled with for the past two decades. In January 2015, South Africa had a malaria outbreak so it was a big thing when that happened.”

Several people join the cluster of The Variant Hunters in Pershing West to address aspects of the problem. Magrath Naluve is a seasoned hunter. He explains the program’s value.

“Our program has helped a lot of people. It’s allowed them to engage in leading an independent life.

“Where our enemy wants to put people on medication, or stop them from being happy because they are taking medication or they don’t want to take medication.

“We are the individuals who can make a difference, we want to help people and especially high risk populations.”

Associate Professor Shaunle van Zyl is Head of Applied Sciences at the Gauteng University. She says the intervention is proving to be effective.

“Now, we do want to start looking at the next steps, the next two or three steps and it would be great to see some of these populations or other high risk populations to be part of the cohort of researchers as we go into the future.

“For me there is another revolution taking place right now. More than ever, we are starting to see how far we can go with community-based interventions such as ‘changing lives’ and these ‘local health systems’.

“Now that we have a model like this, you have human resource, you have a local community who needs people helping them and it’s a perfect example of that,” adds Dr Van Zyl.

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