Figure 1: Albert Mugwachari, Zimbabwe, Gokwe North Musadzi Village Health Worker

As the world grapples with Covid-19, Albert Mugwachari, a village health worker in Gokwe North in Zimbabwe remembers how he has served his community for over 15 years. His work involves health education, malaria testing, disease surveillance and community mobilisation. Gokwe North has been known for high malaria incidences for a very long time. The now popular phrase ‘frontline workers’ reminds Albert of how he has been on the front line of fighting malaria in his community.  Unlike the Covid-19 frontline workers however, Albert’s work has been 100% voluntary.  Sometimes he cycles for long distances in order to reach to a village in need of his services. His satisfaction comes from the impact of his work in the community.  Whilst the whole world is focusing on Covid-19, Albert is observing the high cases of malaria being recorded in his community and wonders how the outbreak is going to be addressed. Even though he is doing his part, he feels more needs to be done.

Since the coming in of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe (ELCZ) in Albert’s community in 2014, malaria cases started to drop. ELCZ’s interventions did not only contribute to the reduction of morbidity and mortality due to malaria but brought real and expected behaviour change. This was evident especially among vulnerable groups like pregnant women and children under five.  The most significant change that shocked the community was the way apostolic sect groups accepted the teaching and practices introduced by ELCZ. One of the sects was trained in saving and lending schemes. “This was a double win for us since they were now opening up to other people. We took this opportunity to continue sharing with them issues on malaria and other diseases.” Albert said.

Albert’s community uses long lasting insecticidal mosquito net as one of the vital weapons in the fight against malaria. Albert takes it upon himself to go door-to-door teaching and demonstrating to his community how the nets are supposed to be hung and how to use them. “I will always remember Lutheran for the net hang up campaigns and World Malaria day commemorations. These had great impact on my community. My clinic was one of the health facilities that recorded the least cases of malaria from 2014 to 2018” Albert explained.

Albert bemoans the reduction in activity from ELCZ malaria project as he says that since 2018, malaria cases began to rise. He said, “For these 2 years that you have not been as active as you used to be, some things have changed.  I am not so sure if it is behaviour relapse” The most affected group is the apostolic sect and Albert believes that if ELCZ engages them, they will respect it since it is a church organisation.

It is because of people like Albert that the work of ELCZ malaria project has thrived. Albert represents a lot more volunteers who sacrifice their lives, time and effort to serve their brethren.  Theirs is pure sacrificial love. Even in the wake of Covid-19 when everyone wants to close their doors and hide themselves from their neighbours, these brave men and women are finding means to reach to their neighbour. With very limited resources, they still use what they have to reach out to their communities. This is the reason that ELCZ Malaria project celebrates community heroes like Albert Mugwachari!