A local project with global support helps reduce malaria-related deaths

By Susannah McCandless, GDF Director of North America

In May 2018, we launched a new initiative on Amazonian Indigenous Peoples’ Health and Wellbeing Initiative under the auspices of the Global Environments Network, partnering with longtime friends of GDF, ethnobiologists Eglée and Stanford Zent. They  needed communications and crowdfunding campaign assistance to respond to an organised call for support from three Indigenous Amazonian communities in Venezuela, with whom Eglee and Stanford have collaborated for over 20 years. An unprecedented rise in malaria, coupled with a total absence of resources for treatment, was disrupting culture and community by carrying off elder knowledge-holders, teachers, and the communities’ youngest members.

The HAWAPO project (hawapo means medicine in Piaroa) facilitated the design, manufacture and transportation of insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets, essential medicines and supplies to three remote Jotï, Eñepa and Piaroa communities. The generous outpouring of support enabled the procurement and shipment of the nets from Vietnam to Miami, USA by late 2018, from Miami to Caracas, and onwards by bush plane and truck to the communities in early 2019. The nets travelled 8733 miles from Hanoi to Savannah, 486 miles from Savannah to Miami, and 1,367 miles from Miami to Caracas. From there to their intended users, some went another 336 miles to Puerto Ayacucho (the city nearest to Betania de Topocho) and another 27 miles to Betania: a grand total of 10,949 miles by boat, train, plane and truck!

The February 2019 delivery of the insecticide-impregnated nets—3,000 nets specially designed for hammocks, and another 300 bed-nets—represents an enormous accomplishment. It reflects the shared commitment and contributions of US$12,604.43 in cash and an equal or greater amount in-kind from over 100 donors: 96 cash donations, and significant in-kind donations of nets, net manufacture, medicines and transport), and at least 50 people helping along the way on the ground in Venezuela.

Project leader Egleé traveled with the support of a myriad of good wishes and belief in this project, which, she said, seemed unlikely to succeed given the fraught context in which the nets and supplies were delivered. “So many little miracles happened along the way to accomplish the goal,” she shared recently. “Just knowing that I was not alone was so meaningful.” She described the assistance she received, some from total strangers, as “completely lifesaving,” such as when people allowed her to sleep in their homes when private flights were grounded while she was en route to one community. Read more about Egleé’s journey here.

Since the successful deliveries in February–March (and since: an additional 500 nets were recently delivered to Mapoyo community members of Palomo) we have been hearing reports from clinics in Jotï and Eñepa communities that the incidence of malaria is much less in 2019 than 2018. Importantly, there are no reports of death from malaria from these communities in 2019. (Unfortunately, serious flooding has so far prevented any communication with Piaroa communities.) We cannot take credit for all this change: Oscar Noya, the doctor committed to the project, has been able to come and go more often. While the experienced change may be due to many factors, we certainly made a difference! 

Project leaders Eglée and Stanford Zent extend their gratitude to the global community effort, including, but not limited to members of the GDF team (Susannah in Vermont and Marina in Malaysia), people in New York and Miami, Swiss manufacturer Vestergaard, Action for Health, Acción Solidária, Rotary International (special thanks to Stephen Baker,) Burlington Vermont Friends Meeting (Quakers), and generous medical professionals and other experts.

All photos courtesy of Eglée Zent. If you would like to contribute to this project and/or sign up to receive project updates, please follow this link: No one should die of malaria.