By Silvia Ximenes and Natasha Cleary, ChildFund Timor-Leste
April 25 is World Malaria Day, a time to recognize the toll this disease takes on many people worldwide, particularly children under the age of 5.
It’s mid-morning off tropical Timor-Leste’s coast, in the mountains of Liquica district. The wet season is coming to an end, so the trees and scrub are still green, and fruit and vegetables are abundant. But the wet season also creates an abundance of mosquitos.
Elderly patriarch Jose Dias lives in one of the only houses in his village that’s made of concrete; most are made of bamboo and palm leaves. Despite its stronger foundations, the house lacks window coverings and fly screens, like all houses here, and it is full of mosquitos. They swarm as Jose speaks about protecting his growing family from malaria.
“My family received two bed nets from ChildFund, and the volunteer also gave us information about how to use them properly and why we need to use them,” he says. “Giving information with nets is important, because some people didn’t know what they were for and used them to catch fish or protect their trees from pests.”
But there are no bed nets in Jose’s garden. While his adult children are working in the fields harvesting vegetables, Jose stays at home with his infant grandson, who sleeps under a net, protected from the mosquitos.
Community health volunteers trained through ChildFund have visited his home and hold group education sessions in his community, raising awareness of disease prevention, like how and why to use nets, and advocating the use of local health clinics. Last year, ChildFund distributed 950 insecticide-treated nets in Liquica district.
Up the hill from Jose’s house is 7-year-old Jakson’s bamboo and palm leaf house. Jakson contracted malaria a few years ago, before his family started using nets. “When I had malaria, I just stayed at home sleeping. I couldn’t go to school or play with my friends,” he says. “Jakson had a fever and headache,” explains his mother, Agostinha. “I knew that I had to quickly take him to the health post to get medication and treatment. Juleta [a volunteer] had already informed my family and the community.
“If I lost a child due to sickness, life could never be the same again,” Agostinha continues.
She has four children who are 7 and younger, and they now all sleep under bed nets provided by ChildFund. Children younger than 5 are at increased risk of rapid progression of malaria, as well as more severe mutations and a higher likelihood of death, according to the World Health Organization.
But there is hope. Through interventions like distribution of bed nets and increasing community awareness, malaria has almost been eradicated in Liquica. Last year, ChildFund distributed 950 insecticide-treated bed nets in Liquica district.
“In 2006, 220 of every 1,000 people who took a blood test had malaria,” says Pedro Paulo Gomes, director of the Liquica District Health Service. “Nowadays it is less than two. The dramatic decrease has been achieved through successful interventions like training [of health staff], bed net distribution and behavior-change information provided to the community.”
Gomes adds that the Ministry of Health has a good working relationship with ChildFund. “We work in partnership to train health staff and volunteers on community health education.”
By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Cristina Moniz was busy as usual one morning three years ago, getting her children up for school and preparing breakfast for them and her husband, Joaquim Lopez, a police officer in the Timor-Leste district of Covalima. She passed by her 7-year-old son Deonizio’s room, and to her surprise, he was still in bed asleep.
Approaching his bed, Cristina discovered that Deonizio had a fever.
“I felt not well at all, got headaches and vomited all the time,” Deonizio recalls today. “With all those conditions, it prevented me from going out; I couldn’t go to school or play around with my friends.”
It turned out that Deonizio had malaria, one of the deadliest diseases in the developing world, especially for children. He and Cristina first went to the village health post, Salele Community Health Center, which referred Deonizio to the hospital, where he had a blood test analyzed.
Cristina was shocked that her son had malaria, but the health center’s staff advised her to give Deonizio anti-malarial medication on time and keep the home clean and mosquito-free. This isn’t an easy task for Cristina, who now has five children and many duties. But insecticide-treated bed nets that arrived from ChildFund in 2011 have helped.
“Before getting the bed nets, there were many mosquitoes around the house,” Cristina says. “We are happy because there are no more mosquitoes, no more sickness. Now, my family and I can sleep safely away from mosquitoes. No more malaria in our family. Deonizio can go to school any time,” she notes.
“I feel sure that mosquito will no longer bite me when I sleep under the bed net,” adds Deonizio, who is 10 now. “I’ll be freely doing my daily activities as usual, going to school, playing with friends.”
Having recognized World Malaria Day recently, we’ve learned about how many children are at risk of contracting this preventable disease in developing countries like Timor-Leste. Malaria kills 200,000 children worldwide each year, and many more become sick. However, the gift of a medicated mosquito net can mean good health, education and fulfilled potential for children in need like Deonizio and his brothers.
by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
It’s World Malaria Day. But instead of launching into a litany of statistics, I’ll just share one hard fact: a child is dying this very minute—every minute—from this disease. And that just shouldn’t be.
Malaria is preventable. Malaria is treatable.
“In the past 10 years, increased investment in malaria prevention and control has saved more than a million lives,” says Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization. “This is a tremendous achievement. But we are still far from achieving universal access to life-saving malaria interventions.”
So you may be asking, “What can I do as just one person?”
Buy an insecticide-treated mosquito net from ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope for a child who doesn’t have one. And then ask your friends on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube to buy one, too. You may inspire a movement. At the very least, you’ll raise awareness.
A mosquito net costs $11. And you could be helping a child like 5-year-old Francis from Uganda.
Or, taking a worry off the shoulders of a mother like Margaret, who lives in Zambia.
Just for today, World Malaria Day, I invite you to take a swing at the statistics. Use your social media clout to knock back malaria one child at a time.
If malaria is preventable, why does this disease remain a major killer of children under age five?
To answer that troublesome question, ChildFund has formed collaborative partnerships within the international community. In Senegal, we lead a consortium of organizations (Africare, Catholic Relief Services, Counterpart International, Plan and World Vision) in the implementation of a malaria-focused USAID-funded Community Health Project.
This program uses community-based maternal and child health services to prevent and treat malaria cases. Although this effort involves significant distribution of medicine, it also offers disease-prevention education through ChildFund’s “Health Huts” program.
Established networks of community volunteers support more than 1,300 health huts. As a result, malaria-prevention programs have now reached more than 4 million people, including nearly 800,000 children under age five.
To reach an even larger audience, ChildFund Senegal is partnering with Senegalese Grammy-winning singer Youssou N’Dour, who has established the Youssou N’Dour Foundation aimed at combating malaria. N’Dour, a leading advocate for the U.S.-based nonprofit Malaria No More, has written a song titled, “Xeex Sibbiru,” which means “fight malaria.” The popular song has become the centerpiece of a “360-degree” education and advocacy campaign that is now sweeping Senegal.
ChildFund Senegal staff and its partners are incorporating the song into malaria education sessions to build awareness of disease prevention. As a result, children are organizing distribution of mosquito nets and initiating community cleanup campaigns to eliminate standing water where mosquitoes breed.
by Virginia Sowers
ChildFund Community Manager
As the social media minder at ChildFund, it’s continuously fascinating to engage in—and learn from—social actions that come to life via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and result in a degree of change in the world.
As we lead up to World Malaria Day, Sunday, April 25, we have an opportunity to watch social media do what it does best—motivate people to act.
Last month, Ray Chambers, the United Nations Special Envoy for Malaria, announced the formation of a Social Media Envoy group in support of malaria control. Now that’s a desirable title — social media envoy.
“In our efforts to reach the Secretary-General’s 2010 goal of universal bed net coverage, and to reach the longer term goal of near-zero deaths from malaria by 2015, it is critical that acceleration continue in the malaria control movement,” he said.
The social media envoys plan to take one social action, such as a tweet or a Facebook wall post, in support of malaria control at least once a month over the next year. Their first organized social action is set for Sunday.
The envoys include a mix of celebrities, news personalities and social media gurus such as Anderson Cooper, Arianna Huffington, Larry King, Alyssa Milano, Peter Cashmore (founder of Mashable), Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter), Randi Zuckerman (Facebook’s director of marketing) and Sarah Brown (of number 10 Downing Street).
I invite you to follow this unfolding story via social media—better still, engage in the conversation and take action to help children in Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 90 percent of malaria deaths occur.
I’ll be blogging again later in the week about ChildFund’s work in malaria prevention and treatment. And I’ll be ChildFund’s own social media envoy on Twitter.