I recently watched a 2006 PBS home video titled Malaria: Fever Wars. The information that it posed in the first few minutes was overwhelming: three million people die a year from malaria; a child dies every 30 seconds from malaria; it is a plague that will double in the next 20 years if no one acts; two billion people are at risk. Then they hit you with this: malaria is preventable and curable.
The disparity framed in this film is eye opening. The effects of malaria on an individual, family and even the community in rural Kenya are substantially greater than the discomfort experience by a man in Florida while he waits for the medicine to begin working. The Florida community only suffers a bit more insecticide that year, while in Kenya, a sick child affects the productivity of his mother and other members of his community when he needs their assistance to travel for a day by foot and bus to the nearest hospital. Once there, the child cannot be afforded the treatment he needs and he is not cured.
What I found interesting is the link from malaria to the lack of infrastructure that was discussed. Malaria causes a loss of productivity worth 12 billion dollars every year. Understandably, families and communities struggling with malaria spend the productive hours they have on necessary tasks such as providing food, water and shelter. While infrastructure development is critical, it’s not as urgent as eating, and there’s simply not enough time, money, or governmental support to tackle everything that needs to be done.
Education takes a back seat to more pressing necessities, and when children are sick, they cannot go to school anyway. The lack of education puts the community at risk for disease and also leaves them with few people qualified as medical professionals. If no one is educated, who can begin to develop their community’s infrastructure?
A hospital in Kenya, without access to water, serves over a half of a million people. The hospital only has one doctor. Rural communities frequently rely on unlicensed quacks to provide medical care, even when their children die under their care. With a health care system such as this, who delivers the aid?
When one must walk for hours on paths that are barely suitable for walking just to get to a road, how is aid supposed to be delivered?
It becomes obvious that the solution can not be just treatment or prevention of malaria with resources just ‘dropped off’ in areas of need. It demonstrates the cycle that these communities are unable to break: poverty, hunger and disease, each a cause and effect of the other issues. This is why the focus of the ELCA World Hunger Program is so important. It combines relief, education, advocacy and development, recognizing that alone, none of these is a solution, but together, it will help communities to be their own solution.