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
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: