The World Health Organization reports that “we are winning the fight against malaria,” but warns there is the risk of resurgence if we don’t take care to sustain the gains made so far against this disease, which still kills an estimated 430,000 children each year. The official theme of World Malaria Day is a clear call to save lives and strengthen communities: “Invest in the future. Defeat malaria.”
Since 2006, Episcopal Relief & Development has been investing in a malaria-free future through its award-winning, flagship NetsforLife® malaria prevention program. Through this program alone, an estimated 112,235 children under 5 are alive today who would otherwise have died from malaria, and 41 million people have been educated on the prevention, detection and treatment for this deadly illness.
Our success can be attributed largely to our grassroots approach, which builds on existing Church networks – such as congregations, Bible study groups and Mothers’ Unions – to train and equip community volunteers in the fight against malaria. Together with our country partners and other faith-based organizations in 17 countries, we have successfully installed 22 million nets in homes, including over 10 million in 2014 alone, double our goal for the year!
Because long-term success depends on community-owned, evidence-based best practices, our trained volunteers gather data before, during and after the nets are distributed, in addition to promoting malaria messaging. These results are what we use to advocate with host government officials and other malaria stakeholders regarding best practices and policies. Five countries have attested to our methodology and consequently changed their net distribution policy to follow our model.
The success of the NetsforLife® methodology has made it possible to tackle new challenges in an integrated way. Groups of NetsforLife® volunteers are receiving additional training and supplies that allow them to serve as Community Health Workers, providing front-line care for malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia, and referring severe cases to health facilities. With ongoing support and expanding partnerships – with Christians, Muslims and traditional worshippers, host governments, the United Nations and companies from the private sector –we are growing and strengthening our network in Africa to holistically address maternal, newborn and child health.
Malaria is a common enemy and we need all hands on deck to put an end to this disease. Everyone, from a child in rural Africa to the CEO of a multinational corporation has something they can do to help! From raising awareness locally and encouraging neighbors to sleep under a net, to supporting programs like NetsforLife® and advocating with governments to improve and intensify their efforts, it truly takes all hands to sustain the gains, invest in healthy communities and heal a hurting world.
Shaun Walsh is Senior Director for NetsforLife® a program of Episcopal Relief & Development
Images: All of these images were taken by Major Gifts Officer Mike Smith during his visit to Kenya. To learn more about the stories behind the photos, click on each photo, or follow this link to our photo slideshow: bit.ly/WMD2015
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