Tuberculosis Education in Malawi

Tuberculosis Education: Malawi is set to introduce Tuberculosis lessons in its primary schools in a bid to fight this highly-communicable, deadly disease.

words and photograph by Deogracias Benjamin Kalima

Malawi is set to introduce Tuberculosis lessons in its primary schools in a bid to fight this highly-communicable and deadly disease. A handbook is being developed by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with their Health counterparts and is to be used by teachers in primary schools to impart knowledge to learners on the causes, prevention, and treatment of Tuberculosis.

According to the Deputy Director for Basic Education, Ellen Simango, the ministry has realized that, even though Tuberculosis is one of the country’s most prevalent diseases, nothing about it is being taught to primary school learners, who are themselves at considerable risk.

“As a ministry,” Simango said, “we discovered that despite TB being one of the diseases that is killing a lot of people in the country, yet nothing was being taught in our schools about the disease. This is despite that our learners are at risk of contracting the disease due to the congested classrooms without proper ventilation.”

She added that teachers from ten districts (Mzimba, Karonga, Rumphi, Kasungu, Lilongwe, Ntchisi, Balaka, Mangochi, Nsanje, and Blantyre) will start teaching about the disease in the current school term, which began in April, with the remainder of Malawi’s districts to follow shortly thereafter. This is in accordance with the ministry’s plan to begin with only a select group of districts, as a trial, before going nationwide with tuberculosis education the following term. According to her, some of the ten districts selected for this trial phase are those with a higher incidence of Tuberculosis.

The project is being financed by the World Bank to the tune of 17 million US Dollars over a period of five years and is being implemented in conjunction with the Government of Malawi through the Ministry of Health and Population. According to an official from the ministry’s National TB Control Programme, Beatrice Ndindi, they hope through the project to achieve higher rates of prevention (in the case of infection), as well as early detection and subsequent treatment of the disease. Ultimately, this would reduce its spread among the population, particularly as TB is controllable when a person infected with it receives timely treatment.

“With this project, we hope to reduce TB cases among learners and the general public through increased awareness on the prevention, detection and treatment of the disease,” Ndindi said. “If we succeed, it means we will save a lot money which is going towards the cost of treating TB patients in our hospitals.”

When people are diagnosed with TB, she added, treatment is readily available in both public and private hospitals at no cost, as the government procures enough TB treatment drugs.

A teacher from the lakeshore district Mangochi, Victoria Kamanga, who teaches at one of those schools that are included in the trial, said the handbook is easy to use as for both teachers and learners as it has been simplified.

“Having been part of the trial of the primary school TB handbook,” Kamanga said, “I find it easier to use as a teacher, while for my learners they seemed to follow and understand the lessons very well. I hope it will be the same with other teachers and learners when they start it next term.”

A pupil who has been part of the trial, Hilda Mandambwe, emphasized the book’s visual imagery as key in making its lessons interesting and easy to follow.

“I find the TB Learners Handbook to be easy to understand as it has many graphics and illustrations,” said the seven-year-old Mandambwe, who is in Grade Three. “With the graphics, I am attracted to the book and its contents which makes me interested to know what the graphics are standing for, therefore learning in the process about the disease.”

Malawian schoolchildren participated in tuberculosis education
Hilda Mandambwe (centre) and her classmates participated in an early trial of the TB Handbook

The TB lessons will be taught in six of eight grades of Malawi primary school education (Grades Three to Eight, inclusive), in the hope that this will impart effective and lasting knowledge to these students, equipping them to combat the spread of this disease, and allowing them to impart this knowledge to others such as their parents.

Tuberculosis is a major public health concern in Malawi. Results from the national TB prevalence survey, done in 2015, showed a prevalence rate of 1,014 cases out of 100,000 people, which is higher than the previous estimated prevalence of 373/100,000 by the World Health Organization (WHO). Multidrug Resistant TB (MDR-TB) is also an emerging issue in Malawi, whose prevalence is at 0.4 percent among new cases and 4.8 percent among previously treated TB patient populations, respectively. In 2015, there were 24 deaths a day from TB in Malawi.

HIV remains the most important risk factor for developing active TB disease in Malawi. TB is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV and AIDS, accounting for 40 percent of AIDS deaths in Malawi.

For more information, please visit the website of the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, or the website of the Ministry of Health, Malawi.