Another disease much more easily prevented is rapidly gaining attention.
Malaria infects between 300 million and 500 million people worldwide annually, according to UNICEF statistics. Nearly 1 million people die each year from the mosquito-borne disease. The majority of deaths are to children in sub-Saharan Africa.
World Malaria Day is Saturday and in an effort combat the spread of the disease Christian aid organizations are stepping up efforts at awareness and prevention.
The most effective tool in stemming the spread of malaria is low-tech and inexpensive. Insecticide-treated bed nets draped over mattresses and sleeping areas are the best weapon.
“The newest nets have two to three years worth of insecticide built into the fabric,” explained Craig Jaggers, a health and education policy advisor for World Vision. “People don’t have to worry about taking them down. All they have to do is hang it up and sleep under it.
“It is incredibly effective at reducing the mortality rate and the spread of the disease.”
World Vision’s goal is to blanket entire communities with the nets and slow the spread of malaria to children and adults alike. Part of that motivation is to keep women safe from passing the disease on to their babies during pregnancy.
“Malaria really is a disease of poverty,” Jaggers said. “For many families we work with, the expense of the nets is more than they can afford even it seems inexpensive to us. . . . We also want to use advocacy to make sure the government follows through to fund its promise to provide $5 billion over five years to provide for malaria eradication and make sure these programs blanket communities.”
Covering the cost of the nets is also the aim of the daughter of one of America’s most well-known comics.
Jordan Foxworthy, daughter of Jeff Foxworthy, went to Kenya with her dad as a 14-year-old on a mission trip and had an eye-opening experience.
“When my dad and I first got to Kenya we stayed in a hotel in Nairobi with netting over the beds and the windows,” Jordan Foxworthy recalled. “We had been taking malaria pills, but I thought that was just a precaution.
“When we traveled into the country it was shocking to see so many people without nets. It was very frustrating because it is so preventable.”
Now a high school junior and a member of Atlanta’s North Point Community Church, Jordan Foxworthy is the spokesperson for Compassion International’s Bite Back campaign to raise funds for net distribution throughout Africa.
“Malaria and other diseases make it difficult for people in Africa break the cycle of poverty,” she said. “Being healthy can help with issues like hunger and finding clean water so people are more capable of taking care of themselves and their community.”
Part of the resurgence in malaria is due to increased resistance to drugs developed to fight the disease decades ago and weakened immune systems accelerated by malnutrition and HIV/AIDS. The close ties between the spread of AIDS and malaria has a silver lining in terms of treatment.
“HIV-infected people are more at risk at contracting malaria and vice versa,” Jaggers explained. “The benefit is money put toward treating AIDS is strengthening the ability to address both AIDS and malaria. There have been cases where we have been able to piggyback efforts to get nets to households where people are receiving treatment for AIDS.”
In addition to the nets African families can benefit from programs to promote residential insecticide spraying and the introduction of newer anti-malarial drugs for adults and pregnant women, Jaggers said.
World Vision is also sponsoring the Night of Nets fundraising campaign in conjunction with World Malaria Day, asking donors to specifically donate toward net purchases.
UNICEF malaria facts: http://www.unicef.org/health/index_malaria.html
Night of Nets: http://www.nightofnets.org/
Bite Back Campaign: http://biteback.net/
A to Z of malaria: http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/04/22/atoz.malaria/index.html