Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Every 30 Seconds A Child Dies From Malaria

Every 30 seconds a child dies from malaria. Every 30 seconds.

Malaria is a horrible disease. The impacts of malaria are very serious. Coma, lifelong brain damage, paralysis, and even death. Malaria is a parasitic disease that takes over the body, infecting and destroying red blood cells and clogging the capillaries that carry blood to the brain (cerebral malaria) or other vital organs.

In 2002 I contracted malaria while working in Niger. I'm not sure exactly when I got bitten by the mosquito carrying malaria. Odds are it was during a few days I was working in the eastern part of the country, in an area without basic sanitation where we slept on sheets over dirt floors, with no mosquito nets and windows open allowing both a cooling breeze from the desert and mosquitoes.

I first noticed I was getting very ill while working in a Peace Corp camp. By the time we'd driven back to the capital Niamey I was passing out in the car, and almost collapsed at dinner. I figured I was tired. By morning things were bad. I was lucky. Amadou Kimba, a friend I worked with in Niger saw the signs and sent me to hospital where I was quickly diagnosed and treatment was begun. I'd seen children die of malaria because they did not have access to hospitals or the money to pay for medication.

The thing is malaria is the single biggest killer of African children under the age of five. Twenty percent of all childhood deaths in Africa are the result of malaria. 

It’s a devastating thing to watch a child die from what is ultimately just a mosquito bite. Especially when many cases are easily and inexpensively prevented.

Malaria-carrying mosquitoes almost always strike at night - just like most mosquitoes do. There is a simple and cheap solution to preventing many malaria cases. Sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net reduces malaria transmission by at least half. It cuts childhood mortality by 25%. Bed nets are cheap and they make a difference. 

Not long after I got malaria I went back to Africa. This time working in The Gambia. I visited a British researcher who was looking at different ways to tackle malaria. There are many options. Insecticides. Genetically modified super mosquitoes. Vaccines. But at the end of the day the most effective and the cheapest option remains bed nets. 

You can make a difference. It takes only $10 to purchase a bed net.

This month I joined with Dalhousie University which, like many Canadian universities, is raising money through Spread The Net to supply bed nets in African countries. Your help is needed. Its a tiny amount of money that can make a huge difference.

A simple solution and a huge impact: 1 Net. 10 Bucks. Save Lives.

(Thanks to Spread The Net for some of the data in this post)