Malaria: Battling the "plague of the poor"

Today is World Malaria Day. One of the top killers of children globally, malaria remains a serious threat in African countries like Mozambique -- even though it's completely preventable and treatable, and even though it was eradicated here in the United States more than half a century ago.

Tom Costanza, a World Vision videographer, shares reflections from a trip to Mozambique, contrasting the elimination of malaria in the United States and its continued devastating effects, both on children and adults, in developing countries.

But simple solutions exist that save lives. And you can help.

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More than 100 rivers in Mozambique provide a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. But these rivers are also essential for daily life there, thus increasing risk of exposure to malaria. (Andrea Peer/World Vision)

A few years ago, I traveled to Mozambique to gather stories of lives that have been deeply affected by malaria. It wasn’t hard to find people there who have had malaria. They're everywhere -- including among World Vision staff.

In some countries, there is a "malaria season." That’s the rainy season, when mosquitoes breed in puddles of standing water.

In Mozambique, malaria is a year-round health threat. But Mozambique isn’t alone. In 2010, there were more than 200 million cases of the disease globally, and more than half a million people died. Most of them were children under 5. When combined with malnutrition and poor healthcare, malaria becomes truly devastating.

The "plague of the poor"

In the Unites States, we don’t know much about malaria. To us, it’s one of those diseases that affects people we'll never know, in places we'll probably never go.

But let me tell you some things about malaria that you may surprise you. Malaria was once a very real threat in the United States. In the 1930s, there were millions of malaria cases here. By the 1950s, however, we had wiped it out.

On my way to Mozambique, I read an article in National Geographic Magazine that put it this way: "Malaria is a plague of the poor, easy to overlook. The most unfortunate fact about malaria, some researchers believe, is that prosperous nations got rid of it."

Just a few dollars can help save a life

Tom Costanza (holding camera) and a team from World Vision U.S. speak with Albertina, a woman in Mozambique who lost her only son to malaria. (Andrea Peer/World Vision)

Still, malaria is like the cockroach of diseases. As we find new ways to fight it, it finds new ways to fight back. Some malaria drugs have become ineffective as new strains of the parasite come into being.

But there is good news. The use of insecticide-treated bed nets has proven to greatly reduce the risk of infection. World Vision distributes these nets in many areas of the world, including Mozambique.

Unfortunately, I contracted malaria on my first trip to Africa many years ago. Because it’s a disease that can lie dormant in the bloodstream for up to 50 years, I still get occasional recurrences. For me, it’s not fun, but it’s not life-threatening, either. I can get treatment.

The same can’t be said for millions of children around the world. But it doesn’t have to be that way. For only about $6 per net, children can be protected from this “plague of the poor” and grow up to lead healthy, happy, and productive lives.

That’s a small price to pay for saving the life of a child.

There are several ways you can take action to help end malaria this World Malaria Day -- and beyond.

Make a one-time donation to help provide insecticide-treated bed nets for a family. These inexpensive interventions can protect a sleeping family from deadly malaria for years.

Want to get your church or community involved? Consider hosting a Malaria Sunday. We’ll provide you with all the resources you need to host a successful event to bring assistance to children at risk from this preventable, treatable disease.

Also, check out the malaria collection available through GIVEN, an apparel line inspired by World Vision. Eight dollars of your purchase price will be donated to World Vision for the purchase and distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets to children at risk from malaria.


    i know rich guys who die of this too.

    A few years ago, my own hubby had serious cerebral malaria, he almost passed out..... lucky we know doctors all over this country and some of our community doctors who live in Kisumu who we called to go and survey him. The nurses were convinced he had fever. I knew and he knew he had malaria. It as showing negative on the results. I could not go there from Nairobi... two small babies in my arms... so we checkd out the Lohana Directory and called the doctors... sent them over to AgaKhan and he got treated for malaria. Unfortunately my hubby did not and still does not speak swahili ... he was also rather down under...... sweating, hallucinating and he could not get across the message that he knew what he had even tho the results were showing negative.

    Voila, so... it helps to be able to communicate in the local language too.

    Does that story make sense?

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