Malaria is a life-threatening illness transmitted from one person to another through the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. It is one of the greatest public health challenges preventing economic development in the poorest countries of the world. Although more than one million malaria-related deaths occur worldwide each year, 90% of these are in Africa. Across this continent malaria causes at least 300 million cases of acute illness every year and is the leading cause of death in young children. Among adults, pregnant women are at greatest risk.
Sadly, in spite of worldwide efforts, malaria kills more people today than it did three decades ago. Mainly this is due to the cost of maintaining long-term programs and the development of resistance to insecticides and treatment drugs. Reports in local newspapers describe the African anti-malaria campaign as focusing on free treatment and better medication supplies. To eradicate this epidemic however, more prevention and early detection projects are badly needed.
Because of my understanding of the seriousness of the disease, I have been involved with malaria prevention projects for the past three years. Up until this year, we had distributed over 2000 mosquito nets in the rural malaria-ridden villages of Sri Lanka. On one of my visits to Africa last year, I read some newspaper articles describing the rising death toll due to malaria infection. Since Mombassa Bed Canopies in Texas has promised to contribute 1000 mosquito nets per year to my malaria prevention projects, and I am at liberty to distribute these nets as needed, I decided to extend our project to Africa. With the generous support of Mombassa Bed Canopies, and the dedicated efforts of two very special people, Raj & Smritha Pandit, we distributed 600 nets this year.
As I visited some of the hospitals in Kenya, I saw many babies suffering with serious effects of malaria. My deep concern for these children gave me the courage to travel into some of the most difficult and risky rural regions to make sure the nets were received by those in greatest need. Working with the African Medical Relief Foundation and my own personal contacts, we organized distribution of nets to pregnant women, mothers of small children, and the disabled in the most severely affected areas of Kenya. Often we would load the nets into our 4-wheel drive vehicles and travel into the remote countryside where people gathered at locally organized central sites.
Although most of the people there were well aware that the mosquito nets could save their children’s lives, they were too poor to afford even one net. While it was painful to witness the condition and suffering of these people, we walked away with the satisfaction and joy of the knowledge that we may have saved some lives and given these children a chance to grow and live healthy lives.