Malaria and poverty combine to create misery for family

Malaria was eradicated long ago in the United States — but in places like Burundi, it still causes great suffering for children like Candide. Join us this World Malaria Day, April 25, as we work to eliminate this preventable disease worldwide.

Story by Nicolette Beharie. Photos by Michelle Siu.
Published April 9, 2012 at 12:00am PDT

As Candide lay sick in her bed, the 11-year-old knew she would not make it to school that day. She had an excruciating headache, a fever, and had become weak from vomiting.

Above her bed, damp clothes dangled from a makeshift clothesline. It was the rainy season in her rural village in central Burundi. As water dripped through the holes of the dilapidated roof, small puddles of stagnant water began to appear on the rugged mud floor — a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Her mother instinctively knew what was wrong: Candide was sick with malaria again. And her elder sister, Immaculate, was still recovering from a recent bout of the mosquito-borne disease.

But without the money to pay for medications, there was nothing their mother could do to help.

‘I’ve never been in peace’

“It’s always like this,” says Denise, a 55-year-old mother of five. “I’ve never been in peace. These children are too much for me because I’m alone.”

When Candide was just 3, her father abandoned the family. Since then, her mother has struggled to make ends meet. When work is available, she cultivates the fields of neighboring landowners, which earns just enough to provide one meal a day to her children. But she can rarely afford anything else.

From left: Candide and her sisters, Immaculate and Fides, have all been vulnerable to malaria because the family can't afford proper prevention or treatments.“I don’t have land. I can’t sell crops,” explains Denise, who grows small patches of beans and sweet potatoes behind her home. “The yield is too small to afford to pay for medicine.”

Although malaria is a preventable and curable disease, many families lack proper mosquito nets and the funds needed to access medications. Almost half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria, reports the World Health Organization. In Africa, a child dies every minute from the disease.

Inadequate protection, unaffordable care

To prevent malaria, Candide sleeps under a mosquito net at night. But her mother has trouble securing it properly, and a hole in the net has rendered it useless. Still, it’s the only line of defense for their family of six.

“I only have one mosquito net, and it can’t cover all the children,” Denise says, adding that she sleeps with Candide at night. “I’m using the mosquito net on Candide’s bed because she is the youngest and most vulnerable. I also want to protect myself so I can continue to take care of the children.”

This past November, Candide became sick from malaria. Her mother borrowed enough money to take her to the health center. The doctor treated Candide and prescribed malaria medications.

Since Denise couldn’t afford the full dosage, she only purchased a portion of the tablets before making the two-hour trek on foot back to their village. When they arrived home, Candide had to share the tablets with her sister.

“I have borrowed from all my friends. No one is left,” says Denise, who still owes debts from previous visits to the health center. “I cannot pay them back because I do not have the money.”

Denise holds up empty packages of malaria medication.Aware of her financial challenges, and fearing that her children will get sick again, Denise has devised a way to cope. “I save them,” Denise says of Candide’s malaria tablets. “So when she gets sick next time, I can give them to her.”

Malaria’s heavy toll

But without completing a full round of malaria medications, Denise’s children struggle to overcome the disease, and their symptoms often relapse. This year, Candide missed several days of school because of malaria. In October alone, she was absent from school six times.

“When I miss school, I miss some classes,” Candide says with concern. Attending school comes at a price for this girl. During the dry season, she works in the fields with her mother to earn enough money to pay for school supplies.

World Vision has begun work in the area of Burundi where this family lives. Through long-term development work, we plan to build the capacity of the community to manage and control malaria cases in the future. For the most vulnerable homes, World Vision also plans to partner with the local government and community leaders to make life-saving medications more accessible.

Learn more

April 25 is World Malaria Day. Visit World Vision’s End Malaria site to learn more about this deadly but preventable disease — and how you can help stop it.

Read more stories and articles about malaria on the World Vision Blog.

Four ways you can help

Please pray for communities where malaria keeps children out of school and families in poverty. Pray for the international will to commit the resources needed to eliminate this preventable, treatable disease, and thank God for the generous donors whose gifts are already saving many lives.

Make a one-time gift to help provide a family with insecticide-treated bed nets. This inexpensive intervention can last for several years, providing vulnerable children with a shield against malaria-carrying mosquitoes while they sleep.

Give monthly to help us fight malaria around the world. Tragically, this disease still devastates communities and perpetuates the cycle of poverty, even though it’s entirely preventable. Your monthly contribution will help our efforts to stop malaria for good.

Host a Malaria Sunday at your church. You can join with your congregation to make a difference in the global fight against deadly malaria.