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Senegalese Village Fights Malaria with Microcredit

Africa's rainy season has begun in many parts of the continent. When the rains come down in this part of the world, malaria sickness, which is spread by infected mosquitoes, soon follows. Almost one million people die in Africa every year from malaria, more than on any other continent. One village in the West African country of Senegal has been saving its money to fight back malaria this year. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Thienaba is a village of about 15,000 people. Within the past six years, villagers have cut malaria infections in half, and local health officials say no one died of malaria last year.

But things were not always like this.

For years, malaria was the number one killer here. Most villagers were infected and more than half of them were dying.

Ten years ago, Fatou Dieng says, her daughter developed a high fever. Dieng thought it was a simple cold and took her to the local healer who gave her herbs. But that did not work. The seven-year old died soon after.

The following year, the mother lost her second daughter. She later learned malaria had killed her girls.

El Hadj Diop is the president of the local association that fights against malaria. He says for years, he and the villagers did not know why their children were dying when the rains came.

Diop's 12-year-old daughter missed school one day because of a fever. He says he did not take her to a doctor, thinking it was not serious. She died within two weeks.

Even though Diop had heard about malaria, he says he, like so many other villagers, did not realize it was so deadly.

But as more pregnant women and children died during the rainy seasons, villagers asked doctors for help.

They learned what caused malaria. They started cleaning their homes to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in pools of water. They formed a group to fight malaria and pass out bed nets sprayed with insecticides.

Even though the situation has improved, Fatou Dieng, who lost both her daughters to malaria, says villagers are not giving up the fight yet.

Dieng says some cannot afford mosquito nets, which cost up to $4. Dieng adds other villagers cannot pay for doctor visits, or the emergency van to the health center located some kilometers away.

So last year, Dieng and some women started meeting monthly to contribute to a village medical fund.

The women can borrow from the fund for other reasons-like starting a business as long as they repay with 10 percent interest, and leave enough in the fund for medical emergencies.

Dieng borrows money to buy and sell bars of soap. She makes about $5 profit every month.

In less than a year, Dieng and the other women now have almost $100 in their metal savings box. There are 50 savings groups like this one in Thienaba.

It is the first time the village has had savings before the start of the malaria season.

Doctor Pape Moussa Thior is the head of Senegal's Program Against Malaria. He says these types of community programs are the most effective in reducing malaria because villagers spread the message about malaria prevention quickly to each other, as well as the importance of savings.

The doctor says despite some villages' success in fighting malaria, it remains the leading cause of death in Senegal. Doctor Thior says more than one million are infected every year, and many still do not know how deadly the disease is.