Making the Fight Against Malaria A Priority

Dear Friend,

Most Americans have never had the experience of contracting malaria. But for those of us who work for international humanitarian agencies, it's an occupational hazard. Some of us at Catholic Relief Services have had the misfortune of having it several times.

I remember the first time I encountered this awful parasitic disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes. I was a young Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana. My roommate went through two days of terribly high fevers, then cold shakes. His body ached and he complained of terrible headaches. I kept trying with only partial success to get him to drink water but he really suffered. The nearest medical center was an eight to ten hour trip away, depending upon the ferry! That trip was out of the question.

Malaria for most of us means enduring the discomfort of flu-like symptoms: high fever, profuse sweating, and pain in our joints and muscles. But for children in the developing world, and for people suffering from diseases like tuberculosis and HIV, malaria can be a killer.

Each year, between 350 million and 500 million people worldwide contract the disease, most of them in Africa, and more than 1 million die. According to the World Health Organization, 90 percent of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly among young children. The WHO also says that malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds. Those children who survive a severe case of malaria may suffer from learning impairments or brain damage.

Malaria also takes an economic toll. For adults, it means lost wages and lagging economic productivity. Farmers in Africa lose up to two months of work per year because of the disease. Economists estimate malaria costs Africa more than $12 billion every year in lost earnings, and exacts an economic “growth penalty” of up to 1.3 percent in some African countries.

It is clear that malaria is both a cause of poverty and a result of poverty. Fighting it must be a priority.

I had the opportunity this month to travel to Benin in West Africa to help inaugurate the largest home-based malaria care campaign in the history of the country. Thanks to a $22.6 million, five-year grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, CRS is leading a four-member consortium that will work with more than 1,400 community-based organizations to educate families and provide basic malaria care for children.

The program will target more than 2 million children under 5 years old, enabling most of them who have malaria to be treated at home in less than 24 hours after the first symptoms appear.

This program will have a tremendous impact on the lives of Benin's families. The community-based approach means children suffering from malaria will be attended to quickly. The best part is that communities will be helping their own.

CRS has programs throughout sub-Saharan Africa targeting malaria, including treatment, health education and powerful preventive measures like providing bed nets treated with insecticide. In addition to the Global Fund, we are receiving substantial assistance from President Bush's Malaria Initiative. These efforts must be combined with a comprehensive public-private collaboration to eradicate the mosquitoes that carry this dreaded disease.

Together, we can work to ensure that some day, malaria in Africa is an uncomfortable annoyance rather than a death sentence.

Thank you for your continued support and your prayers.

Ken Hackett

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