Feature

African Rains

Malaria wipes out a million each year

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What do you think of when you hear the word “Africa”—picturesque villages, elephants and lions or maybe poverty, famine and AIDS?

As terrifying as AIDS is, there is another plague that can kill through a single mosquito bite. In 1890 the first seven C&MA missionaries arrived in West Africa, and within the first few months, four died of a deadly fever. Very likely the cause was malaria. More than 115 years later, there is still no vaccine against this disease.

It has been said that every 30 seconds, a child dies from malaria. By the time you finish reading this article, depending on your speed, up to a dozen children will have succumbed to an illness that many North Americans have heard of, but most give very little thought to.

A BUG FOR ALL SEASONS

When the rains come to Africa, malaria comes with them. There are four species of malaria parasites, but the worst culprit is Plasmodium falciparum. When a mosquito bites an infected person, it passes the parasite larvae to the next person it feeds on. The larvae enter the liver and then the bloodstream. The infected blood cells burst, and the larvae are released to infect other blood cells, which also burst. As the cycle continues, the victim’s symptoms include severe headache and chills. Children and adults alike often have fevers of up to 105 degrees.

At the ACCEDES Health Center in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso (ACCEDES is the relief and development organization of the Alliance national church in Burkina Faso), I work alongside my friend and colleague Jetty Stouten, a surgical nurse from the Netherlands. We never know what the day will bring. Some days are relatively uneventful; other days explode with activity to the point that we have to call an ambulance to get patients to the city hospital. The number of patients we treat at the clinic has increased this year to about 850 a month, most of them having symptoms of malaria. In fact, we see many more cases of malaria than of AIDS.

One day I walked into the waiting room and saw a mother and father carrying their 16-year-old daughter, Fatimata, with the help of their son. She was comatose and began to convulse from malaria. Naturally, her parents were beside themselves! Fatimata had come home from school for her lunch break, eaten some food and then lay down because she was not feeling well. When she didn’t get up to go back to class, her mother found her burning with fever and unable talk.

We began treatment right away, and then she was rushed off to the city hospital. Fatimata pulled through this malaria crisis, but many patients do not. When you think of this huge continent of Africa, you can see that controlling this problem is a daunting task! A British foundation found that $42 per malaria death was spent on research, with $840 to $3,360 per death on AIDS research. It is good that so many are helping AIDS patients here in Africa, but Jetty and I feel that it is past time to do more for the many who are dying of malaria. An effective vaccine that has few side effects for young and old alike has not yet been produced.

INTERNATIONAL TEAM

Jetty is in Burkina under the Dutch national C&MA church, CAMA-Zending. She raises her own support and is an important part of our Burkina team. It has been my privilege to work and live with Jetty for many years, and I thank God for giving us this medical ministry together in Burkina Faso. Although Jetty is the only non-American on our team right now, the Dutch missionaries have been part of our field for many years.

After we had prayed for help for two years, a Burkinabè nurse came to reinforce our team. Elisabeth Sawadogo arrived just as the number of patients we are treating at the clinic sharply increased. A smile is never far from her face, and because she was trained in the Burkina Health System, she is a tremendous help in getting the required weekly and monthly reports to the health authorities.

As nurses here, we find it is important to teach as we treat our patients. In the clinic’s waiting room, we have an ongoing video presentation based upon the JESUS film. Our prayer is that people not only will find physical health but spiritual health as well.

We always tell people about the importance of prophylactic medications against malaria, as well as try to get them to sleep under mosquito nets that have been treated with insecticide. These nets can save lives, but they are costly and can be stifling during the hot season.

If the whole family is under one net, an arm or a leg of one of the children is usually hanging outside the net—and a prime target for mosquitoes. That child, in school or working the fields, can be happy and full of life in the morning and dead by noon from malaria.

The rains bring life in providing a growing season for the food the people grow, but they also bring a bumper crop of mosquitoes. The worst cases for us during the rainy season are the infants and children who come to the clinic with convulsions because of malaria: a terrible disease, a dreadful killer.

NETTING A KILLER

Malaria occurs mostly in poor, tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Scarce resources, lack of access to treatment and socioeconomic instability hinder programs designed to control malaria. Of the estimated 1 million malaria deaths worldwide last year, 90 percent were in sub-Saharan Africa. There, weather conditions often allow transmission to occur year round.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report that more than 3,000 African children die from malaria daily. Because the very young have not built up immunity to the disease, 20 percent of African children will not live to their fifth birthday.

Insecticide-treated nets are highly effective against the mosquitoes that carry the deadly disease, but many villages have not received them. Your continued support of the Great Commission Fund allows The Alliance to place trained personnel like Peggy Drake into areas of the world where education and especially prayer are making a difference in peoples’ lives. Every effort is made to present each patient with an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and thousands of men, women and children have been led to the Lord as a result of medical missions throughout Africa.

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