At least that many children will die today because of malaria. More than 750,000 children die every year from a simple mosquito bite. Most of these children (85 percent) die before they even reach their fifth birthday.
It wasn’t until I heard these numbers that I understood why our generation needed to mobilize to stop this child-killer.
In addition to the loss of life, the impact on many countries’ productivity and health infrastructure is overwhelming. Worldwide, an estimated 250 million people become infected every year. It costs the continent of Africa more than $12 billion in lost economic productivity, even though malaria could be controlled for a fraction of the cost. A bout of malaria wipes out 10 to 20 work days, and more than 30 percent of school absenteeism in Africa is attributed to malaria. In many countries, malaria may account for as much as 40 percent of public health expenditures, up to half of all hospital inpatient admissions and up to 60 percent of outpatient visits.
If you are like me, these numbers are overwhelming—but surely they also should compel us to respond.
Malaria used to be a problem right here in the United States. In fact, we’ve had seven presidents afflicted with malaria, including three of those honored on Mount Rushmore (Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt). Who can imagine what our nation would be like without their contributions?
And yet children are being robbed of their life or potential today because many parts of the world have not yet done what we managed to do for ourselves almost 60 years ago. More than 2,000 children dying every day—the leaders of tomorrow cut down before their prime. Potential teachers, doctors, lawmakers and presidents.
But malaria cannot just be measured by the loss of life alone.
On a trip to Malawi, a World Vision colleague met a young girl who had been afflicted with cerebral malaria a week prior. He was told that she was once the most promising student in her class, but her bout with malaria had caused so much brain damage that she could no longer speak or attend school.
When someone is infected with the malaria parasite, they initially experience flu-like symptoms such as fevers, chills and aches. But when left untreated, more serious complications can develop, such as respiratory distress, seizures, coma and even death. Cerebral malaria is the most serious manifestation of the disease and occurs when the parasite begins affecting the brain.
Today, malaria threatens an entire generation of future leaders. Some studies show that one in four children afflicted with cerebral malaria will have long-term cognitive impairment. This loss of potential is even more staggering because the disease can be prevented and treated, and every death is 100 percent avoidable.
A massive double standard
We eliminated malaria in America. In fact, after fighting to control malaria around many Southeastern military bases during World War II, the United States government actually founded the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to spearhead the elimination of malaria nationwide, a goal achieved by 1951. But we stopped short of halting this child-killer in much of the developing world.
In James chapter 2, the apostle teaches against showing favoritism. He says, “If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
Have we not shown favoritism in eliminating this child-killer in our own backyards while we allow it to continue to destroy lives, productivity and potential around the world?
We can end malaria
No child should die from a mosquito bite.
At World Vision, we are responding through prevention, treatment and advocacy. We have an audacious goal: reducing the number of malaria infections by 75 percent and the number of preventable deaths to near-zero by 2015 by coordinating our efforts with government, businesses and other nongovernmental organizations. We are equipping tens of thousands of volunteer caregivers and staff to fight malaria—distributing bed nets, educating communities and supplying antimalarial drugs. These are proven and effective solutions that work. For example, in Zambia, one of the countries in which World Vision works, we have seen a 66 percent reduction in malaria cases in just two years.
But we cannot do this on our own. We need you to contact your government leaders now and ask them to support efforts to eradicate malaria. To combat this child-killer effectively, the United States must increase its funding to at least $1 billion per year. They passed a law promising to do so, but haven’t yet followed through.
Here are a few ways you can get involved:
Come to the Action Summit to End Malaria: This April 21-22, we are descending on our nation’s capitol to hear from the top experts and advocate with our government leaders.
Host a “Night of Nets” event: We have free resources, including “When the Night Comes” by Bobby Bailey of Invisible Children for you to help create awareness and save lives.
Help save lives from home: Contact your elected leaders. Your voice is powerful and can make a real difference.
Provide a life-saving bed net: Just $6 will protect two children for four years.
James Pedrick is the Senior Advisor for World Vision ACT:S, a network of students exploring what our faith says about justice, using creative activism to bring issues to life and change hearts, and using our voices to advocate.