'Malaria killed my daughter, I'm protecting others now'

From BBC - April 16, 2018

Three faded photographs of Ami as a toddler are Elhadj Diop's only tangible mementoes of his daughter. Yet she comes alive in the intensity of his voice, as he recounts her last two days of life.

Ami was 12 when she died from malaria on 10 October 1999.

Since then Mr Diop, now 64, has channelled his grief into a unremitting campaign to banish malaria in his town of Thieneba Seck, about 150km (95 miles) from Senegal's capital, Dakar. He has given up his job, sold his belongings, walked hundreds of kilometres and convinced thousands of people - from politicians to village sanitation brigades - to play their part.

He is one of the reasons why Senegal is on track, according to the World Health Organization, to be declared malaria-free by 2030.

"At the time we had no idea what it was," says the former photographer, sitting in his yard under a tree. "She was vomiting. Her limbs ached. We took her to the clinic and to the traditional practitioner.

"But only the wet cloths we wrapped around her burning body seemed to offer her relief.

"On the second day, she seemed to have improved. She asked me to buy her some apples. I was holding the bag of apples when my sister phoned with the news."

Thursday is sanitation day

The same day as Ami's funeral, several other children were buried in Thieneba Seck, a town of 4,000 people.

"They had died of the same illness. The day after, it was a young woman who had just had a baby. Ten days later, I lost my nephew to malaria."

He quit his job.

"Taking photographs for Unicef, I had learnt that fighting malaria requires community involvement. I convened information meetings at my house with elders from the area. But of course I had to pay for their transport and give them a meal. So I sold my camera, my television set and all the electric fans in my house."

Mr Diop goes round communities in his district, informing people about the importance of hanging a mosquito over every bed, and the need for rigorous cleaning - in Thieneba Seck, every Thursday is sanitation day - to remove rubbish and stagnant water that attract the mosquitoes which spread malaria.

"In 2014, I walked 412km. I made myself ill. That is when one of the donors gave me a car. It was very nice of them,'' he says, pointing at a battered white pick-up in his yard, ''but I can only occasionally afford to put fuel in it."

Neighbourhood watch for cleanliness

Mr Diop is not particularly interested in receiving aid money.

"If it is offered I take it. But the donors have their own priorities. One day USAid and the Global Fund will leave Senegal and go elsewhere. If we depend on them, then what will we do?" he says.

Malaria-free generation?


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