Monday, August 23, 2010

What Malaria?

Earlier today, as i was walking out of my favourite establishment in Moroni, toothpick in mouth and stomach full of lobster, I beheld a man with a laptop in the lobby, staring at an MS Outlook screen with no unread messages and regularly hitting F9 ("retrieve mail") with the face of someone used to work on life/death projects. I gathered by the sureness of his demeanor that this is a man who knows about lonely lunches in the best places a hardship location has to offer and sure enough, the collar of his polo shirt was showing the familiar purple lanyard of the initiated ("Just Saving Lives") so i approached him: "You work for an HRI affiliate don't you?" "I do indeed" he answered, "I work in malaria", "Have we met before?", "No we haven't but i heard much about you".

Turns out he was hired by one of our affiliates not yet established here to write an assessment about malaria programs in the Comoros - the affiliate is considering opening operations in Moroni, funded by a global mechanism they have set-up with the Aid agency of a large country south of Canada, known in the business for its flexible and very competent operatives and for its very streamlined processes. Of course every NGO (and quite a a few for-profit HRI affiliates) in Comoros work in malaria, most of them successfully "burning" through significant funds, and it is just sound logic to squeeze another player in: there's innovation in numbers my friends, and we do like to keep each other on our tasseled-shoed toes.

My ego tells me I should have been informed about this, but my reason argues that in the heat of things coordination sometimes may suffer and that's fair enough, also because i haven't really read my emails in six weeks (I have asked Nathan the intern to scan them every other day or so and call me if there is anything urgent, where "urgent" is another word for "donors wanting to give us money").

In true HRI fashion, this particular TLA (Three Letter Affiliate) is been funded for work that has been done by a competitor another organization, established here over the last 10 or so years, that i have recently enjoyed watching falling out of grace with the very competent representative of the respective donor, over the crucial matter of the size of the logos printed on their mosquito nets. As a consequence, the TLA was predictably  asked in to "help with coordination", inviting also another HRI affiliate from the private sector to help out with developing the coordination systems needed to ensure a "consistent use of Logos that will guarantee sufficient visibility" for the funding agency, and hence another striking victory in the fight against malaria.
Never the one to argue with sound, straight-forward strategies, I took a liking in this consultant and decided to invite him over for dinner, to alleviate his loneliness and provide an opportunity for further internal coordination. I am also considering offering him one of my 12 in-suite guestrooms for the rest of his time here - no-one understands better than me how important it can be when traveling to enjoy the unaltered comfort of a home.

We can then bond over this shared intimacy and spice our malaria small talk with anecdotes about how only in the field people are so generous as to offer you a place at their table and a fully serviced room. Then, next time i'm in Geneva he can pretend he would love to have me stay, would his only guestroom not be full with his collection of african art ("i really need to find some time to nest"). That will suit me just fine actually, as to be honest, when in Geneva i  am rather partial to staying at the dignified and conveniently located Mandarin Oriental du Rhone, and would never trade that for a mattress in some consultant's livingroom complete with creep access to the shared micro-sized family bathroom, always a very dingy affair, wall-to-wall carpeted and never with a shower curtain.

As you can probably imagine, malaria is big business in the Comoros and the well-afflicted people of these islands have more options than most to enjoy being the subjects of a diverse package of life-saving interventions. Not only do they have access to the whole traditional HRI-centered, cutting edge package (that would work better than it does, would the Comorians be just a bit more cooperative) but they have been also privileged enough to stir the interest of a Chinese research/ development outfit that has "sole sourced" WHOs support for an innovative project: given the remoteness of the island of Moheli, the whole population was put on compulsory arthemisinin prophylaxis and prevented from interaction with non-islanders for, like, three years. No-one knows exactly what the research showed (aside from the "success" declared by the implementers) but it was a too-rare example of old school public health of the isolate-put-on-drugs-and-see-what-happens variety.

Seeing an opportunity for innovation, the donor agency of the country south of Canada is trying to pull out a simple strategy: if it works get all credit, if it doesn't, blame the Chinese.

Motivated by such noble objectives, we are entering familiar HRI territory and in close cooperation with the TLA we are really looking forward to coordinating the efforts on the island using a mix of time-proven strategies for success while also diminishing our competitors's share of the donor market creating closer cooperation opportunities with partners in the sector.

Will keep you updated.

1 comment:

  1. I just discovered your blog today. I don't know whether to laugh or cry - well I'm pissing myself laughing right now but crying on the inside. Its so sad that Emmas can get jobs.