a success story for World Malaria Day

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.

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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 change that.

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 about a $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.

 

 

Posted at 14:59

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