World Malaria Day is coming up on April 25. This preventable, treatable disease was eradicated in the United States in the early 1950s -- but even today, it continues to devastate lives in places like Kenya, where simple interventions could end suffering for mothers like Elizabeth. Read her story below and consider how you can take action to help accomplish what was done in this country decades ago.
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Elizabeth Apem, a mother of six, sits silently on a mat spread across the dry, sandy soil outside her grass-thatched hut.
In a span of six years, Elizabeth lost two of her daughters -- Kaman Napokol, 17, and Silale Napokol, 13 -- to the angry pangs of malaria. Silale, her fourth-born daughter, just died this past September after struggling with bouts of the disease for about one month.
“Malaria is a bad disease,” she says. “I could not spare my children even after struggling to treat them.”
A battle lost
Elizabeth remembers Silale’s battle with malaria in graphic detail. She'd rather forget, but unfortunately, the memories come flooding back whenever she sets her eyes on the graves tucked away behind her hut.
Elizabeth, a mother in Kenya, tragically lost two children to malaria. (Photo: Kenneth Kibet/World Vision)
“It was late at night when my daughter woke up from the sleep, complaining of a severe headache and joint pains," says Elizabeth. "I checked on her, and she was shivering in bed. She had high fever, and I knew it was malaria.”
The remainder of the night was anything but restful. “We could not sleep anymore,” Elizabeth continues. “My daughter struggled the rest of the night. I had nothing I could give her to relieve the pain. I kept watching over her until dawn.”
The following morning, Elizabeth took her to a health center near their home. After taking some blood tests, the malaria diagnosis was confirmed. This was the beginning of the child’s short but tragic journey with the disease.
Silale was put on an anti-malarial treatment at the local dispensary, but after two weeks of medication, her condition worsened. At this point, medical personnel decided to refer her to a bigger health facility for advanced treatment.
At the hospital, further blood tests were conducted, which determined that the child was suffering from both malaria and typhoid. Silale was admitted, but her condition continued to worsen. After two weeks of medication, she succumbed to complications resulting from the two diseases.
“She was vomiting again and again. At around four o’clock in the morning, her condition worsened. She was calling me and crying of severe headache," Elizabeth says.
“She kept saying, 'I am dying of a headache,' and I was scared. I went to call the nurses, and when I returned, she was still in pain. I held her in my arms,” Elizabeth continues.
“Her body had wasted away. She had no energy left. When a nurse came, she felt her body and told me she was no more. I almost collapsed.”
Insecticide-treated bed nets: Life-saving protection
Kenya has one of the highest rates of malaria in the world. Thousands of lives, the majority of them children, continue to be lost to the cruelty of an otherwise preventable disease transmitted by mosquitoes.
The high temperature -- coupled with shrubs scattered across the plateau, and, in some areas, irrigation canals -- provide an environment conducive to the breeding of mosquitoes. The situation is worsened by a lack of preventive measures -- such as sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets.
A World Vision staff member teaches people in Elizabeth's community about the proper way to use a bed net, in order to prevent malaria. (Photo: Kenneth Kibet/World Vision)
Clutched in Elizabeth’s hand is a pink ticket. She and hundreds of others in her village are preparing to go to a health center, where they will exchange the tickets for bed nets. The nets are being distributed by World Vision, in partnership with the Kenyan government's Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation.
World Vision’s End Malaria initiative supported the purchase of the long-lasting nets, while the government provided logistical support to distribute to beneficiaries.
“It is very difficult to buy a mosquito net when all you get goes to buy food. I depend on the little income I make from the sale of floor mats to feed my family," Elizabeth says.
“I have one old net in my house. I always worry for my children whenever I hear mosquitoes around my house at night. I just pray that they do not get malaria, because there is nothing much I can do to save them.”
But the new insecticide-treated bed nets will protect Elizabeth and her children -- and hopefully help her worry a little less. These nets are estimated to be twice as effective as untreated nets, and offer more than 70-percent protection from malaria infection, when compared to those sleeping without a net.
Through the distribution, nearly 118,000 people, like Elizabeth and her family, will have a new shield against malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
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.
Looking for a way 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.