Malaria is another one of those big-number, far away
diseases. 600,000 children in Africa are predicted to die
from malaria this year, but those children are far, far away, and
most of us can't really imagine living in a place where a mosquito
bite might mean death for hundreds of thousands of people. Two
thousand child deaths a day? Too big a number to wrap your brain
around, too distant a disease.
So, for today, World Malaria Day, let's leave the numbers and
the distance and draw up close to a story. Stephen is a
small, 3 year old boy. He's had a pretty rough little life, leaving
him without a father or a mother, but he still has a smile that can
charm you in about 30 seconds. Stephen lives in a children's home,
where he especially loves to try to play soccer with the big
children and to lie in the grass to take a nap on a sunny
afternoon. If you come to the home and you seem friendly enough and
you sit down, you should be prepared for Stephen to snuggle up in
your lap. If you happen to be willing and able to open up the magic
that is a story book, Stephen will struggle mightily against ever
having to leave your lap at all.
A little over a month ago, Stephen came down with a severe case
of malaria. He must have been bitten by one of Kenya's mosquitoes
that had the insidious parasite lurking in its blood. Stephen had a
mosquito net, but it was pretty old and raggedy and the insecticide
coating had likely worn off long ago. At first, Stephen just had a
high fever and was very tired and achy, but then he started to have
seizures. He lost his smile. He was sleepy and confused and became
more and more difficult to wake up. Children are much more likely
to get cerebral malaria, to have malaria hurting their young brains
and putting them into a coma.
Cerebral malaria can kill you if you are not treated properly
and quickly. Thankfully, Stephen was one of the lucky ones. The
guardians at the orphanage took him to the clinic for sick children
right away, and he was admitted to the hospital for the intravenous
medicines and fluids his body needed. His seizures stopped, and his
little brain seemed to make a good recovery. When we sent him home
from the hospital, Stephen was smiling and squirming and beyond
excited about a storybook that I had brought for him that featured
a soccer game.
Stephen is a smiling, sweet success story for this World Malaria
Day. One little boy who lived. We should think about all of the
success stories across the globe in the fight against malaria,
especially stories about how we can prevent kids like Stephen from
ever getting malaria in the first place. 2010 was reportedly the
biggest year in malaria control history. More funding and more
awareness about malaria made it possible for various organizations
to distribute tens of millions of mosquito nets around the world.
UNICEF says that a combination of net distribution campaigns and
malaria treatment programs allowed 11 countries in Africa to have
more than 50 percent LESS malaria cases, hospitalizations, or
deaths in the past 10 years.
Are we on track to actually meet a Millennium Development Goal,
to have no malaria deaths by 2015? Wouldn't that be a great story!
Malaria is preventable and treatable. So many children still die
from malaria (2,000 per day!) because prevention and treatment are
not readily available to those who need them most. We need to
We need all kinds of things to make those changes -- researchers
to develop vaccines and ways to fight the mosquitoes, better
strategies for how we use insecticides and bednets, effective
training for the healthcare providers in the communities who see
malaria first. But if you want something that you can do today,
something to foster more success stories, like Stephen's, think
$25 gift to the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Program. For
$25, they can provide a sleeping packet for a child like Stephen --
a floor mat and matress, a blanket, and a mosquito net. More
success stories, more smiles, more 5th birthdays in sight.