Health in Guinea, West Africa

Published 11/04/2022 in Scholar Travel Stipend
Written by Taylor Chavez | 11/04/2022

I traveled to Guinea, West Africa as a Public Health Educator to create collaborative solutions and discover inventive ways to help Guineans help themselves in order to improve public health.

I lived in a rural village and worked within the local health center as well as the community as a whole. Initially, I conducted a needs assessment of my community and identified areas for improvement to recommend possible solutions. Then, I initiated two primary public health projects with Guineans while working on a variety of smaller health and agroforestry projects in my spare time.

The first project was a world map painting and hand washing tour within the town. World maps are a tool to improve knowledge of geography and highly valued within many Guinean schools. Providing this tool as well as combining it with a hand washing workshop would increase Guineans’ understanding of the world and incorporate public health practices in an innovative manner. Working with the principals and teachers of the five schools in the village, the educators and I hosted meetings over a period of two weeks where we located a space within each school to paint a large-scale world map, calculated the cost of materials, purchased the required supples, and created a painting schedule. Once the world maps were complete, the educators and I intended to have each student place a paint handprint next to the world map at their respective school. The students, educators, and I then would review the ten steps for proper hand washing with soap to remove the excess paint on the students’ hands in order to promote important health practices within the schools. Due to the increasing global threat of COVID-19, the project was not finished before I was required to leave Guinea, though the individuals involved were enthusiastic to continue the project in my absence since the preparation was complete and all that was needed was to begin the tour was start painting the maps.

The second project was an HIV campaign and training of trainers in the local health center. In 2012, 1.7% of Guineans were infected with HIV, and its prevalence within my town was unknown. Alpha Mamoudou Diallo, a medical student studying at the local health center,  was passionate about providing the village with accurate knowledge to understand what HIV is and how to get tested. Together, Alpha Mamoudou Diallo and I planned to invite a specialist in HIV education to the village in order to facilitate a training to teach the health center staff how to use HIV rapid tests and educate Guineans about HIV in a culturally sensitive manner. Following the conclusion of the training of trainers, Alpha Mamoudou Diallo and I hoped to host educational sessions to spread the information about HIV and HIV prevalence in Guinea to members of the community. We met with the local health officials to obtain approval to host the campaign within the village and provide an action plan for the campaign. Alpha Mamoudou Diallo expressed interest in following through with the project following my departure from Guinea, which occurred before the completion of the campaign planning.

When I was not working on my two primary health projects, I was engaged in a series of other small-scale health and agroforestry projects. I participated in a long-lasting insecticide treated mosquito net distribution to provide the houses in the village with bed nets to combat malaria. During this distribution, I worked with NGOs and the local health center to count the number of nets we would require and distribute the nets throughout the community. Afterwards, I taught several individuals how to properly care for the nets, including careful washing and repairing broken nets. Additionally, I worked with the health center staff to provide informational sessions about malaria itself on the local radio station in Pular, the local language spoken within my community. I hosted cooking classes throughout the village to teach Guinean women how to incorporate local vegetables and meats in order to increase nutrient intake to combat malnutrition. I explained the importance of including multiple food groups in one’s diet and how to increase vitamin consumption. The classes taught how to augment Guinean dishes utilizing local produce as well as showcase nutritional American dishes, which were of interest due primarily to their novelty. I planted over seven hundred trees, primarily moringa and orange trees, for their nutritional and monetary benefit to the people of the town I lived in. Many villagers took the trees I planted and transplanted them into their personal gardens so they could continue to care for the trees on their own. I showed people how to create tree nurseries during the dry season, when Guineans typically do not plant trees due to the weather conditions, so they would be able to plant trees and reap their benefits all year round. I provided the health center staff with lessons centered on how to use Microsoft Excel in a capacity building effort so they would be able to digitize their health records and create graphs to illustrate health trends in the village. Sessions were primarily with the chief of the health center, though other staff members would pop in from time to time in order to learn specific Excel skills which were applicable to their respective jobs. A group of women in my village worked to dry fruits and leaves to sell them at the local market, and I worked with these women to optimize their drying process to increase product yields. The optimization included the implementation of a solar dryer, which I worked with the local carpenter to construct.

During my fifteen months in Guinea, I participated in health projects and activities with a focus on capacity building for Guineans and sustainability within the community. Although my time in Guinea was not as long as I hoped it would be, I learned so much throughout the months  I spent there and have hope I was able to accomplish my goal of improving Guineans’ health practices utilizing innovative, sustainable, and culturally appropriate techniques.