Scheduling Spray Operations Around Caterpillar Hunting in Zambia

Mar 2019
A girl displays some harvested caterpillars in Mporokoso District. Photo by Francis Mwangata.

Engaging local leadership to help tailor IRS campaigns around seasonal economic opportunities creates a win-win

When the rainy season arrives in Zambia, families both rejoice and worry.

The wet months bring an onslaught of mopane worms, locally known as caterpillars. These insects are a healthy source of protein and revenue, particularly for rural communities who depend on the harvesting season for added income. A cup of caterpillars sells for the equivalent of $4.

During the hunting season, which spans about four weeks, an average household can make approximately $80. In Zambia, where 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the added income during rainy season can provide much needed security.

But with those rains comes another insect that can wreak havoc on a family’s health and economic well-being: the malaria-carrying mosquito. Malaria accounted for 13.5 percent of Zambia’s annual hospital admissions in 2017 with children and pregnant women at highest risk of infection.

To reduce the spread of the disease, the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) VectorLink Project supports the Zambia government to implement indoor residual spraying (IRS). IRS involves spraying long-acting insecticides on the walls and ceilings of people’s homes to kill the mosquitoes.

While offering life-saving protection, the 2018 spray campaign coincided with the period when households migrate to the forests to hunt for caterpillars. This ordinarily would have posed a major challenge for the IRS program because families would not be around  prepare their homes or let in the spray teams.

In 15 districts that hunt caterpillars, the PMI VectorLink Project collaborated with the National Malaria Elimination Program (NMEP) to engage authorities and traditional leaders. This allowed us to tailor the IRS campaign to accommodate the communities’ needs. In some districts, the campaign was suspended for a few days to allow the migrating communities to return from their forest camp sites and have their homes sprayed.

These accommodations ensured that the caterpillar hunting could continue during the IRS campaign, creating a win-win situation for the community: sizable incomes from the caterpillar harvesting and protection from malaria-carrying mosquitos.

“Engaging the district and traditional leadership yielded very positive results with regards to the caterpillar harvesting situation in the communities,” Dr. Emmanuel Kooma, head of vector control at the NMEP, said.

During the 2018 IRS campaign, PMI VectorLink surpassed its goal of 85 percent coverage and sprayed 559,137 homes in 29 districts in four provinces – Luapula, Muchinga, Northern and Eastern. This protected more than 2.7 million people, including 87,163 pregnant women and 397,483 children under five.

Photo Credit: Francis Mwangata
Photo Credit: Francis Mwangata

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