INFECTIOUS DISEASE

Jennifer Nettles: On World Malaria Day, no parent should watch their child die from a bug bite

A displaced girl is tested for malaria at an MSF clinic in Tomping camp

A displaced girl is tested for malaria at an MSF clinic in Tomping camp  (REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu)

Tuesday, April 25, is World Malaria Day. Malaria is an infectious disease claiming the lives of now 429,000 people each year – mostly children.

Living in the South most of my life, I am all too familiar with the annoyance of mosquitos, especially in the evening. But I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to live with mosquitoes beyond annoyance; an insect bite that might mean the death of my sweet little boy. Millions of mothers and fathers face that fear around the globe year after year, whereby malaria claims the life of one child every two minutes.

The good news is that the number of deaths from malaria per year is down by 48 percent since 2000. We have made historic, epic strides in treating and eradicating malaria with new testing methods, widespread distribution of insecticide-treated nets, and introduction of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) to prevent deaths worldwide from mosquito bites. 

Nearly 1 million people were dying each year from a mosquito bite just fifteen years ago, but today, we’ve cut that number in half thanks to prudent funding and programs through the integrated efforts of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), launched by President George W. Bush, and the strategic efforts of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. 

A nimble public-private partnership, the Global Fund is a financing institution that funds the response to malaria in countries worldwide, while the PMI provides talented U.S. field teams who offer technical support to malaria control programs, facilitating the implementation of Global Fund grants.

Together, these two humanitarian efforts reinforce each other’s effectiveness, collaborating on cutting-edge prevention measures and ensuring transparency and efficiency.

The Global Fund has led the extraordinary distribution of more than 713 million insecticide treated bednets and the treatment of 626 million cases of malaria worldwide. 

Among children under age five, the malaria death rate is down 69 percent since the year 2000. Prevention works. 

“End Malaria for Good” is the global theme for Tuesday’s tribute on World Malaria Day to both the success gained and the ongoing battle. Absent efforts, malaria could resurge within just one infectious season.

Currently, President Donald J. Trump’s budget recommends a 28 percent cut for the entire International Affairs Account. A more detailed budget proposal to come soon will have varying levels of funding for line items, like HIV/AIDS, nutrition, and family planning associated with global health and poverty focused development assistance.  The proposals for cuts to PMI and the Global Fund, and how Congress responds, are deeply important.

We must ask ourselves today, what would happen if Congress allowed for cuts to funding for PMI and the Global Fund, both initiatives Republicans and Democrats alike have solidly supported in recent years?

How many fewer bed nets will be provided? How many mothers will we have to tell that we simply aren’t able to offer her child the treatment s/he needs to fight this infectious disease? How many lives will be lost? How have we squandered a chance to move closer to eliminating this threat to innocent kids?

As President George W. Bush has said, “I am confident that with renewed focus and determination, we can finish the job, and ensure that no child dies from a mosquito bite."

We are a country dedicated to security, progress, and compassion. We lose these values among nations worldwide if we decide not to lead the world in funding and systematically enhancing programs to “end malaria for good” as we have done for the last two administrations. 

Join me in calling your member of Congress today to encourage them to fully restore funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Because no parent should watch their child die from a bug bite.

Jennifer Nettles is a Grammy-winning singer/song-writer, performer and an activist for women’s and children’s health in developing nations, specifically Guatemala. She and her husband live in Nashville, Tenn., with their son. She is a member of Hope Through Healing Hands’ Faith Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide

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