By Mobina Jaffer : It has long been known that the burden of malaria on the developing world is crushing. An entirely preventable disease affects 350-500 million people each year, kills upwards of one million and claims the life of an African child every 45 seconds. This is simply unacceptable. What is even more unfortunate is that this disease preys on the most vulnerable population namely pregnant women and children.
I have been actively involved in efforts to help prevent this horrible disease for many years now. Every year I return home to Africa and participate in efforts to fight malaria and other entirely preventable diseases that plague my brothers and sisters living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although I have many stories and experience to share with you, there is one which is particularly close to my heart.
In November 2007, I had the privilege of accompanying Prime Minister Stephen Harper to my country of birth, Uganda, for the Commonwealth Conference. As part of this trip, the Canadian High Commissioner’s wife, Vanessa Hynes, was assigned to arrange my program in Uganda. She is a kind-hearted woman. On behalf of Canada, she has done amazing work to help the most unfortunate in Africa. During my time in Uganda, she took me to a hospital. We toured and then we proceeded to distribute dolls made by Canadians to the children in the pediatric ward.
As we distributed the dolls, we saw a young girl named Miriam slowly crawl towards us. She was 4 years old and had a large scar on the left side of her neck. I had to stop and speak to young Miriam. She had an enticing smile. As she reached for doll, I reached down to play with her. Her father explained to me in Kiswahili that Miriam had a large cancerous tumour and had undergone a successful surgery to remove it. I looked puzzled and asked why they were in the outpatient unit. He explained that Miriam had malaria and he could not afford the anti-malarial tablets. He had returned to the hospital to see if he could get the tablets for his daughter. While we were arranging to have the tablets given to Miriam, she become ill and fell into a coma. She was readmitted to the hospital. On our way back from visiting the other wards, we saw Miriam’s parents sobbing. Miriam had died because they could not afford the anti-malarial tablets that cost only a few dollars to us. A child who had survived lifesaving cancer surgery died of malaria because her parents could not afford the tablets. The sad reality is that there are many Miriam’s in our world.
April 25th of every year is recognized by the international community as World Malaria Day. As we commemorate this day let us raise awareness in our homes and in our communities about this entirely preventable disease which preys on our world’s most vulnerable populations. Let us come together, hand in hand, and participate in the battle against malaria by investing our time and our resources towards fighting this horrific disease. Together we can make a difference, we can save the lives of young girls just like Miriam who continue to fall victim to this treatable disease.