Malaria: Battling The "Plague of the Poor"


Tom Costanza, a World Vision videographer, shares reflections from his trip to Mozambique, contrasting the elimination of malaria in the United States and its continued devastating effects in developing countries, both on children and on adults.

One of the top killers of children globally, malaria remains a serious threat in African countries like Mozambique -- even though it's completely preventable and treatable, and even though it was eradicated here in the United States more than half a century ago.

Tom Costanza, a World Vision videographer, shares reflections from a trip to Mozambique, contrasting the elimination of malaria in the United States and its continued devastating effects, both on children and adults, in developing countries.

But simple solutions exist that save lives. And you can help.

A few years ago, I traveled to Mozambique to gather stories of lives that have been deeply affected by malaria. It wasn’t hard to find people there who have had malaria. They're everywhere -- including among World Vision staff.

In some countries, there is a "malaria season." That’s the rainy season, when mosquitoes breed in puddles of standing water.

In Mozambique, malaria is a year-round health threat. But Mozambique isn’t alone. In 2010, there were more than 200 million cases of the disease globally, and more than half a million people died. Most of them were children under 5. When combined with malnutrition and poor healthcare, malaria becomes truly devastating.

The "plague of the poor"

In the Unites States, we don’t know much about malaria. To us, it’s one of those diseases that affects people we'll never know, in places we'll probably never go.

But let me tell you some things about malaria that you may surprise you. Malaria was once a very real threat in the United States. In the 1930s, there were millions of malaria cases here. By the 1950s, however, we had wiped it out.

On my way to Mozambique, I read an article in National Geographic Magazine that put it this way: "Malaria is a plague of the poor, easy to overlook. The most unfortunate fact about malaria, some researchers believe, is that prosperous nations got rid of it."

Just a few dollars can help save a life

Still, malaria is like the cockroach of diseases. As we find new ways to fight it, it finds new ways to fight back. Some malaria drugs have become ineffective as new strains of the parasite come into being.

But there is good news. The use of insecticide-treated bed nets has proven to greatly reduce the risk of infection. World Vision distributes these nets in many areas of the world, including Mozambique.

Unfortunately, I contracted malaria on my first trip to Africa many years ago. Because it’s a disease that can lie dormant in the bloodstream for up to 50 years, I still get occasional recurrences. For me, it’s not fun, but it’s not life-threatening, either. I can get treatment.

The same can’t be said for millions of children around the world. But it doesn’t have to be that way. For only about $6 per net, children can be protected from this “plague of the poor” and grow up to lead healthy, happy, and productive lives.

That’s a small price to pay for saving the life of a child.

Written by Tom Costanza


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