The Long Road Home: Allen Zomonway’s Community-Based Efforts to Prevent Malaria
By Jody Madala and Karen A. Cheng
April 14, 2009—Allen Zomonway tackles the problems of malaria and other community health needs with passion. As the project manager for the Child Survival Project at Ganta United Methodist Hospital in Liberia, Zomonway is committed to helping improve community health through malaria education and other life saving programs.
His drive to serve the Ganta community was ignited after he was displaced and lived in fear of persecution during Liberia's 14-year civil war. Zomonway came of age during those years of struggle which interrupted his aspiring medical career. He spent months in hiding—at one time he took on an assumed identity to protect himself from soldiers who would have killed him for his ethnic Mano roots.
Beginning and Ending at Ganta
Zomonway first arrived at the Ganta United Methodist Hospital campus in 1986 as a nursing student. He graduated from its well-regarded program in 1988. Shortly thereafter Zomonway worked at the Consolata Clinic in Tappita assessing patients during intake. Then on March 29, 1990, rebels fiercely attacked the area and Zomonway fled, walking through miles of thick, uncut bush for almost a week.
Although the war persisted, Zomonway's wish to return to Ganta was fulfilled September 1991. Determined to help his community, Zomonway found himself back at Ganta Hospital as assistant supervisor of the primary health care (PHC) program which served nearby villages.
As the war escalated and security risks increased, the PHC team could no longer leave the hospital compound to serve the Ganta community. By October 1994, the conflict escalated to such a boiling point that Ganta Hospital had to close its doors.
Fleeing from violence once again overshadowed Zomonway's life. In spite of the war and his own displacement, Zomonway kept his focus on serving people. An opportunity to return home came in 1998 when he received a call from Mr. Victor Taryor, a fellow-nursing classmate who needed his assistance in rebuilding the capacity of Ganta Hospital.
By this time, Ganta Hospital was reestablishing its community-based health program. He yearned to help teach others at home. The same energy that drove him to persevere during the war was now needed to build up Ganta Hospital's community-based health care programs.
Malaria Education and Prevention
Part of his vision was Ganta Hospital's Malaria Program, which began in 1999. The community lacked basic information about malaria and myths surrounding malaria were rampant. Through the outreach of the immunization program, Zomonway and his team took the opportunity to teach what they could about malaria prevention and proactively educate the hospital's surrounding communities.
Though mosquito nets were not available, they taught the community how to cut down the thick bush and elevated grass, and burn cano seeds from the local palm tree fruit to create smoke that acts as a natural mosquito repellent. The community learned how to use nyanaleh, a sandpaper-type substance to make swatters and to close their windows by 6:00 p.m. They were also instructed to move dumping sites away from their homes and clean out areas of stagnant water.
Preventative care was the key to combat malaria so every focus group discussion included these techniques. Over time, the effort paid off according to Zomonway, "People are clearly much more knowledgeable. They can even tell you that it's the female mosquito that causes all the trouble."
Today, Ganta Hospital's Malaria Outreach Program also highlights the value of mosquito nets when they are used properly. Over time and with repeated discussion, the mosquito net becomes a "must have" item. Now individuals even sew their own nets out of used clothing.
"This is just the beginning," Zomonway surmises. "We want to continue to build capacity. We started with limited education (about malaria) ourselves but as we trained and learned, we are now ready to lead others and show them the way. We know our focus and have initiated our own process (here at Ganta Hospital). Prevention first, not just treatment after. We are seeing that process starting to work with more discussions about the facts of malaria, not myths," he continued.
Zomonway's team empowers Ganta communities with knowledge and will soon distribute nets to these communities where the value is clearly understood.
"I want to do more."
By 2004, peace finally spread across Liberia. After the long arduous road that Zomonway has traveled, has he changed?
He thinks about this for a moment before answering in his rapid-fire Mano-influenced English. "Before, I worked just to get paid. Now I have more ownership and feeling in what I do. And I want to do more. We ask ourselves every day why are we doing these things?"
In these more peaceful times, Zomonway continues to show himself as a devoted leader in malaria prevention and a passionate driving force to the overall continued success of Ganta United Methodist Hospital's community health programs.
How You Can Help
Ganta United Methodist Hospital is working to restore its infrastructure and revive its health care facilities following Liberia’s civil war. You can support the hospital’s efforts to provide the Ganta community with much-needed heath care and education by giving to Hospital Revitalization, UMCOR Advance #982168.
*Mandala and Cheng are UMCOR Health consultants