Perspective…or something

In the time it takes me to write this post, 20 children in Africa, all under the age of 5, will have died of malaria.

I have to admit, I don’t really think about malaria much, except maybe as something to worry about if I were to travel to South Asia. It’s not on my radar of diseases running rampant in the world the way tuberculosis and AIDS are. I don’t regularly hear staggering numbers associated with malaria the way I do about those other diseases. And yet, the numbers are incredibly staggering.

Twenty percent of childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa are from malaria, a preventable and treatable disease. There are 300 million to 500 million cases of malaria every year, and over a million deaths.

If every person in that part of the world slept under mosquito netting, those numbers could be reduced by 20-50%. But the nets are out of reach of many people, where the cost of one can easily represent several weeks of pay for a struggling family. Which brings up another sobering number. Those nets cost, oh, about $4 to $6US. What is 4 bucks to me? How often do I plunk down three times that for a CD from a band I know one song by? Or a Frappaccino?

The thing is that I know these kind of figures exist all over the place. I know that the price of a cup of coffee a day can save a life from all those Sally Struthers commercials. But being confronted with specific causes, with the numbers, with all of it, is heartrending.

This was the topic on Weekday on KUOW this morning, and the reason I’m so preoccupied with these numbers today. I had to do some further research after crying when the regional director for African programs from PATH talked about how the unprofitability of developing a vaccine that would be consumed mainly by the poorest people on the planet has been a big part of the reason why there isn’t one already (though the Gates Foundation is working with PATH to fund research and clinical trials into several potential ones now).

And it all makes me want to do something, because, in fact, it’s been more like 15 minutes since I started this post, which means that 30 children have died since I wrote this headline. There are too many things wrong in the world to take them all to heart, unfortunately. It’s unreasonable to say I was inspired by the story this morning and have decided to quit my job and run off to Africa to try to provide health education. It is not, however, unreasonable, to make a donation to the United Nations Foundation to purchase some of those mosquito nets. I’d encourage you all to as well.