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? A child dying from malaria every 60 seconds? That's too big and too terrible a number to wrap your brain around.

So, for today, World Malaria Day, let's leave the numbers and the distance and draw up close to a story:

Jonathan is 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. Jonathan 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 Jonathan to snuggle up in your lap. If you happen to be willing and able to open up the magic that is a story book, he will struggle mightily against ever having to leave your lap at all.

A little over a month ago, Jonathan came down with a severe case of malaria. He must have been bitten by one of Kenya's mosquitoes the parasite that causes malaria lurking in its blood. Jonathan had a mosquito net, but it was pretty old and raggedy and the insecticide coating had likely worn off long ago.

At first, Jonathan 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. Young children are much more likely to get cerebral malaria, to have malaria infect and inflame their young brains and put them into a coma.

Cerebral malaria can kill you if you are not treated properly and quickly. Thankfully, Jonathan was one of the lucky ones. We managed to get him 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 I sent him home from the hospital, he was smiling and squirming and beyond excited about a storybook that I gave him featuring a soccer game.

Jonathan is a smiling, sweet success story for this World Malaria Day. One little boy who lived. He makes me smile when I think of him today.

We know how to prevent malaria. We used to have malaria in the United States. As a college student, I remember reading about how Ithaca, New York (home to my alma mater, Cornell University) once had terrible problems with malaria, but since the end of World War II, we have wiped out malaria in most parts of the world with proper sanitation and insecticide treatment. We could make Africa as free of malaria as upstate New York.

We know how to treat malaria. Simple, inexpensive medicines can wipe out most malaria infections in children and adults. Deaths from malaria in Africa have gone down 50% since 2000, but that's not good enough when we still lose a child like Jonathan every 60 seconds.

If you want to defeat malaria -- if you want more smiling, happy boys and girls like Jonathan growing up in the world, here are a few ideas for today from the Roll Back Malaria campaign:


Posted at 10:35


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