JOQ with Dr. Jessie
Dr. Jessie Stone founded Soft Power Health in 2004.
Jessie is dedicated to improving the lives of Ugandans through grass roots healthcare. ‘Knowledge is Power’ – that is the idea her team lives by and works with.
Soft Power Health is a U.S. based non-profit organization with a rural health clinic located in Kyabirwa, Uganda. The clinic provides primary and preventative healthcare, along with malaria education and family planning outreach programs throughout many villages in Uganda.
Just One Question
How did you arrive at the decision to combat malaria in Uganda?
Response from Jessie
Nine years ago this month, I was invited on a paddling expedition to the Nile River in Uganda.
Before I left for my trip, I only knew three things about Uganda:
First, Idi Amin had been a brutal dictator there. Second, Uganda was rumored to have a terrible malaria problem; and third, the Nile was supposed to have great whitewater. As it turns out, all these things were true. During my first trip there, one of my expedition mates got malaria and I had to treat him. This experience made me wonder what happened to the local people and if they had malaria all the time or what. I asked around to find out what people knew about malaria and no one could tell me very much. However I did meet the founder of Soft Power Education our sister charity in Uganda, Hannah Small, and she told me that she knew nothing about malaria but that she could connect me to a local woman, named Jessica, from the village who could help me out.
Once I was introduced to Jessica, I could see why Hannah thought she would be very helpful. She was from the village, spoke perfect English and perfect Lusoga, the local language, and she was extremely determined to help. In two weeks, we surveyed 50 homes and discovered some pretty shocking results.
No one we visited had a net.
No one we spoke to understood how they got malaria.
Everyone we spoke to reported having at least one family member get malaria every month and occasionally die from their disease, and they spent lots of money every month treating malaria. Everyone we spoke to was interested in learning more about malaria and everyone was willing to pay something for a net. Our survey convinced me that a simple preventative intervention could be life saving, health promoting, and cost saving for these families. All these people were very interested in developing a partnership with us to help live healthier lives. We organized a malaria education session for the village with the help of the local chairman. Many locals attended the session and it was really well received. Our only problem was that everyone wanted to buy nets and we did not have any. So the next thing I had to do was source mosquito nets.
My biggest problem became getting nets
This mission sent me into the world of pharmacies that were my first local net suppliers. After lots of negotiating, I finally found some nets at a price I could afford. As soon as we did our first malaria education and net sale, we sold out of all of our nets right away. I could see we were onto something. Pretty soon, all kinds of people from all kinds of villages were calling us to come do malaria education sessions and net sales. Everyone wanted nets and wanted them as soon as possible. My biggest problem became getting nets. In our first official year as a non-profit, we sold just over 1,000 nets. A year later, we had sold 10 times that many nets and the demand just kept growing. Around this time, I was introduced to my first true long lasting insecticide treated net made by Net Protect. This net was radically different and far superior to any net I had seen so far. In addition, we could order large amounts at much better prices per net than we had been able to pay for before. We could pretty much meet all our needs as far as nets and education were concerned.
We have sold over 50,000 mosquito nets
During this time, the government of Uganda decided to start giving free nets away to pregnant women and children under five. This idea grew to be more generalized net distributions to different villages all over Uganda supported by 17 million few nets compliments of the Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and Malaria. I was very concerned that the free nets being giving away would take away people’s incentive to buy nets that we had been selling up to that point. I was also very concerned that people were not getting proper education about malaria and proper net usage.
This plan of free distribution of nets threatened to take away the commercial sector for nets sales that had been alive and well in Uganda up to this point.
Furthermore, what I knew and all the recipients of free nets did not know is that this would be a one off. This distribution would happen only once but have a lasting negative effect that would be hard to recover from! Luckily, I was right and wrong about my fears. The free nets did take away some people’s incentives to buy but luckily, there were still people who did not benefit from the free distributions and they still wanted to buy. In fact, they were still contacting us to come to their villages for net sales. Now, 8 years after we started our malaria education and prevention program, we are collaborating with a number of small NGOs across Uganda to help share our model for malaria education and prevention and train other people to do what we do.
We have sold over 50,000 mosquito nets and followed up on thousands of those nets. Our follow up visits show that 65 -70 % of net buyers use their nets properly and report having less malaria.
Community by community, we are working with people to adopt lasting behavior changes that will help them and their families live healthier and more productive lives. Its slow, its not glamorous, but it is lots of fun, incredibly interesting and very rewarding.