Malaria in Africa: Nets protect children from deadly disease

One of the top killers of children worldwide, malaria is a constant threat to children and families in African countries like Burundi. However, the use of simple and inexpensive bed nets in sub-Saharan Africa has the potential to prevent 1 million child deaths.

By Nicolette Beharie. Edited by Shawna Templeton. Photo by Michelle Siu.
Published March 27, 2012 at 12:00am PDT

In her village in Burundi, Candide, 11, lays lifeless in her bed. She won’t be going to school today. She has an excruciating headache, a high fever, and is exhausted from vomiting.

Malaria strikes again

Like a doctor, Candide’s mother, Denise Simbandumwe, instinctively recognizes the symptoms — she has seen them so many times. Her daughter has malaria. Again. 

Candide’s sister, Immaculate, 19, is also recovering from the illness.

Half the world at risk

Although malaria is a preventable and curable disease, many families lack proper mosquito nets and funds needed for medications. Almost half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria, reports the World Health Organization. In Africa, a child dies every minute from the disease.

Malaria is a constant visitor to this house, and it is easy to see why. Damp clothes dangle from a makeshift clothesline above the bed, and rainwater drips through the holes of the dilapidated roof. These are perfect breeding conditions for malaria-toting mosquitoes.

To try to prevent malaria, Candide sleeps with her mother under a bed net at night. “I’m using the mosquito net on Candide’s bed because she is the youngest and most vulnerable,” Denise explains. “I also want to protect myself, so I can continue to take care of the children.”

(Left to right) Candide and her sisters, Immaculate Irambona and Fides Ndayisaba, have been ill on and off with malaria and typhoid. Because their mother cannot afford medication for all of them, they share doses. As a result, they never fully recover and frequently relapse.

But she has trouble securing it properly, and because of a hole, it provides a false sense of security, not actual protection.

Treatment hard to reach

When the children get really sick and the symptoms from malaria last for multiple days, Denise is forced to borrow money from her neighbors and make the two-hour trek on foot to take the children to the health center.

The doctors regularly prescribe malaria medications, but Denise rarely has enough money to pay for a full dose.

Also, as is the case right now, she often has multiple children suffering from malaria at the same time. This means that while the medications alleviate the symptoms, the children rarely make a full recovery, so they are left more susceptible to get sick again.

Denise can’t take Candide to the doctor today. “I have borrowed from all my friends. No one is left,” she says, acknowledging that she still owes debts from previous visits to the health center.

“I cannot pay them back, because I do not have the money.”

Making prevention and treatment more accessible

Denise and her children live in an area of Burundi where World Vision has just begun work. Staff members plan to build the capacity of the community to manage and control malaria cases in the future. 

Denise (right) sleeps under a bed net with her youngest daughter, Candide. But a hole in the net dramatically decreases its effectiveness.

Insecticide-treated bed nets are the key prevention tool. Inexpensive and durable, the use of bed nets in sub-Saharan Africa could prevent 1 million child deaths. 

Bed nets have the potential to protect not just the individuals who use them, but also the entire community. The World Health Organization has concluded that when the majority of a community sleeps under insecticide-treated nets, the risk of infection falls by more than half for everyone, even those not sleeping under nets. Insecticide-treated nets disrupt the cycle of mosquitoes transmitting malaria from one neighbor to another.

In June 2008, World Vision launched a major initiative to reduce the staggering incidence of illness and death caused by malaria worldwide. World Vision aims to contribute to a 75-percent reduction in malaria cases, with the end goal of near-zero preventable malaria deaths by 2015. 

Three ways you can help

Pray for children and families who are susceptible to malaria. Pray that prevention and treatment options would be available to them. 

Make a one-time gift to help provide bed nets for a family. Every $18 you give will provide long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets that will protect an entire family from this deadly disease. Since these nets can be used for up to four years, that means you will save the life of a family for only about 18 cents a month!

Contact your members of Congress. Ask them to support efforts to eradicate malaria by maintaining our commitments to fund vital programs that fight malaria.