In July 2009 I traveled to Kenya to meet with Micah Challenge Staff from all over the world. After meeting in Kenya I headed off to Kampala, Uganda to see the work of some of our denominational partners. My hosts introduced me to many different non-profits doing development work in the country...
In July 2009 I traveled to Kenya to meet with Micah Challenge Staff from all over the world. After meeting in Kenya I headed off to Kampala, Uganda to see the work of some of our denominational partners.
My hosts introduced me to many different non-profits doing development work in the country. One "non-profit" we inevitably ran into were members of the Anapheles Gambiae Complex. This was no surprise as it would be difficult NOT to run into an "employee" of the Anopheles Gambiae complex as this "non-profit" is active all throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They directly impact 200 million people in over 100 countries! The difference between this non-profit and the others I visited in Uganda is that members of the Anopheles Gambiae Complex are destroying communities rather than building them up.
In fact, they kill close to 1 million people (Since I wrote this, latest estimates have reduced this number of 660,000!) each year around the world, 90% of those are in Africa! What an outrage! This earns Anapheles Gambiae my title of WORST “non-profit”.Ok, it’s not really a non-profit organization: Anopheles Gambiae (meaning "no profit" in Greek) is the main carrier of the deadliest strain of Malaria, Plasmodium Falciparum.
At some point I became too friendly this deadly non-profit. I returned home (Portland, OR) with more than just new friendships, stories, and loads of inspiration, but with a bunch of malaria parasites--specifically plasmodium falciparum. I discovered I was sick during a heat wave we had. I was floating the Clackamas River with some friends, and despite the 106F temperature I was shivering uncontrollably. I knew immediately that I had Malaria. My visit to the Dr. the following day confirmed my suspicion. After getting blood drawn I was sent home to wait for the results of the smears. A few hours later I was covered in blankets and shivering uncontrollably when the Doctor called. Our conversation went something like this
When you are uninsured being told to go the hospital is like being told to go the moon---it's not going to happen. However, the Dr convinced me that if there was ever a time to go to the hospital it was now. I said a prayer and went on my way. Thus began my four-day hospital stay which was a daze of sweat, fevers, vomiting, pain, getting blood drawn, and frustration.
My doctors were exceptionally qualified physicians, but knew little about Malaria. They began treating me for one type of malaria, but later said I had another kind of Malaria--one that according to them would go away with the course of treatment I was already on, but according to everyone who has access to the internet (I did at lot of googling) the treatment I was receiving was NOT effective for the strain of malaria they thought I had. The frustration grew as I wasn't getting better as fast as I was told I would.
Amidst this frustration I found myself wishing that the Malaria had presented itself while I was in Uganda because Ugandan doctors would know exactly how to diagnose me AND treat me effectively. Then the injustice of this struck me: Whoever that Anopheles Gambiae bit after me was likely infected with the deadliest form of Malaria, and though they were in a nation where the Doctors know precisely how to diagnose and treat Malaria, there is a chance that my mosquito heir died. If it was an adult there is a chance their body overcame the parasite, but if it was a child or someone with a compromised immune system (suffering from hunger or HIV) they might have died. This is a gross example of inequality, and I am convicted to my core to end it.
Malaria kills nearly 1 million people each year (Again, this has dropped to 660,000 since I wrote this!)! Questions began to rise. Why did I survive this parasite? I had so many things working against me--I was a foreigner without the antibodies needed to contain the disease, I was treated in a nation where the disease is rarely diagnosed and treated (I was the 18th case that summer in all of the United States), I was uninsured, and in my specific case my diagnosis was foggy until weeks after I left the hospital when the CDC did indeed confirm that I had Plasmodium Falciparum. The key difference between me and whoever that mosquito bit after me is that I am rich and live in the US --though I was uninsured I ended up being covered by Workers Comp (another safety net not available to many), even though I am not particularly wealthy I could afford the treatment, and even though my Doctors weren't malaria experts they had resources and expertise available to them to treat me.
It is a great injustice that this completely preventable disease continues to take away nearly 1 million lives a year. Malaria is a disease we know how to prevent, and we know how to treat--there is no medical reason why it can't be completely eradicated--are we up to the challenge?
Thankfully, much progress has been made! Globally, there has been a reduction of 25%in mortality rates with the most progress in Sub-saharan Africa. Progress needs to continue until this disease claims no more lives.
I recently learned that the Center for Disease Control was developed for the purpose of eradicating Malaria in the United States--so we know it can be done. Why is it any less urgent to address Malaria in other parts of the world? As with many issues if we lived in a vacuum then it would be harder to argue for an urgent response to challenges facing other nations, but we don't live in a vacuum. People affected by Malaria are often the same people who make our clothes, mine natural resources that go into our goods (cell phones, building materials, fabric, jewelry, etc.), and gather on Sunday mornings worship the same God we do. We have a part to play--perhaps its buying a bed-net to help prevent malaria, maybe its advocating for Malaria treatments to become affordable to the people who need them most, and praying for God to be with those who are vulnerable to Malaria and for clarity in our role to support their efforts to fight this disease.