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Ending Malaria

It’s pretty simple. We can end senseless deaths from malaria by 2015. It just takes each of us doing our part.

For millions of people around the world, a simple mosquito bite still means death. Every year, malaria kills nearly 900,000 people—mostly children, infants and pregnant women. Ninety percent of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. I just got back from a trip to Ghana, where they have cut malaria deaths in half in recent years. Part of this success is due to President George W. Bush’s President’s Malaria Initiative, which helped ensure that more than 1 million bed nets were distributed across the country, and leadership from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

To get us to the finish line—an end to unnecessary malaria deaths—everyone, from church leaders, elected officials, businesses, even Ghana’s national soccer team, the Black Stars, are doing their part.

The weekend of World Malaria Day—April 23, 24 and 25—people of faith will take action by holding a ONE Sabbath event. These events will rally individuals and congregations to raise awareness and advocate on behalf of people living in extreme poverty and struggling against preventable diseases, including malaria.

Congregations across the country are making this challenge their own. Some will be raising awareness by showing a clip of the film When the Night Comes, produced by Bobby Bailey (Invisible Children) with United Against Malaria (see a clip of the documentary here). It’s a powerful message of what we can do when we work together.

In Denver, churches are leading the way for a community-wide campaign. They’re calling it “Ten Thousand Nets,” an effort to raise funds for 10,000 bed nets and to rally people all over Denver to lift their voices and advocate for continued U.S. leadership. Pastor Michael Hidalgo of Denver Community Church says this is not only about saving lives, it’s about living out an active faith:

“The Bible is filled with verses about caring for the orphan, the widow, the poor, the weak—Jesus Himself said that His people are those who ‘look after the sick.’ Today, malaria is the leading killer in sub-Saharan Africa in children under the age of 5. Malaria kills one child every 30 seconds. In joining the fight against malaria, a preventable, treatable and curable disease, we who follow Jesus are not just saving lives—we are living in the ways of Jesus. When we do this we are with God, because God is with those who suffer.”

Malaria is an entirely treatable, preventable disease. A $10 bed net can keep out deadly mosquitoes that spread the disease. If an individual is infected, effective medication only costs $2 a dose. With these smart, affordable, straight-forward solutions, we’ve seen tremendous results. In Ethiopia, deaths were cut in half after more than 20 million bed nets were delivered, covering those most at risk—particularly women and children. Other countries such as Eritrea, Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia have seen similar results. In South Africa, they’ve nearly eliminated deaths from malaria.

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Beating back malaria is not just about health, though. It’s about ending extreme global poverty. Malaria decreases productivity and increases the risk of poverty. For example, infection rates are highest during the rainy season, often resulting in decreased agricultural production. Farmers are bed-ridden instead of tending their harvest. In total, malaria costs sub-Saharan Africa an estimated $12 billion in lost economic productivity, foreign investment, tourism and trade every single year.

Malaria also presents a serious strain on public health systems. In sub-Saharan African countries with high rates of transmission, malaria accounts for 40 percent of public health expenditure. Education is affected, too, as students and teachers are forced out of the classroom.

In his recent FY2011 budget request, President Obama requested significant funding increases for two of the main programs we have in the fight against malaria: the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. PMI partners with national malaria control programs, international organizations and the private sector with a goal of providing prevention and treatment for 175 million of the most vulnerable people (children under the age of 5, pregnant women and people living with HIV/AIDS) in its 15 focus nations by 2010. The Global Fund, underway in more than 140 countries, has delivered 104 million insecticide treated bed nets and 108 million highly effective doses of malaria medicines, and has also protected millions of homes through indoor spraying. Congregations and ONE members are asking our elected leaders in Congress to fully fund both. 

Putting faith into action is critical in the fight against malaria—a fight that really is about promoting healthy, flourishing lives. That’s why ONE members will be lifting up this hopeful message and rallying others across the country in this effort through ONE Sabbath. To end malaria deaths, each of us have to do our part. The good news is we know how. To join us, visit www.one.org/us/onesabbath/worldmalariaday.html.

Adam Phillips is the Faith Relations Manager at ONE and an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

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