In Mali, the heat of June plays a vital role in gathering the large dark clouds which involve lightning, thunder and other dangerous weather conditions. These clouds bring with them a paradox, a blessing and a curse. They bring the long awaited rain which stirs hope in hearts for a bumper crop but there is also a dark side, these clouds bring heavy rains which leave stagnant water in ponds and puddles, the perfect breeding ground for the female mosquito which carries the malaria parasites to lay her eggs and breed more deadly mosquitoes.
In 2011, there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria in the world with an estimated 655,000 deaths. Of those deaths, 86 per cent were among children less than five years of age. The vast majority of malaria cases (91 per cent) are in the African Region causing great economic loss for the continent. This makes this disease a real development plague for the continent.
In Mali, malaria accounts for 38 per cent (all ages) and 45 per cent (children under five) of medical consultations in health services. It is the leading cause of death among children under five and a primary contributor to anaemia among pregnant women. In Mali, 62 per cent of all reported deaths and 68 per cent of deaths in children under five are due to malaria
Jourabe Coulibaly , a 14-year-old girl contracted malaria in August last year, the peak of the rainy season. “When I got malaria I thought I was going to die,” Jourabe says. This is the harsh reality that Jourabe knows only too well. She has seen three of her siblings, age one, two and three respectively, die from malaria. It is a fear that she lives with.
“The only thing we have left of the three children who died from malaria are memories. I cannot forget the memory of my children who died,” says Jourabe’s mother, Djenebou Diarra, as she holds her one year old son tightly.
“My three children died from malaria before I knew that a mosquito net is the answer,” says Tiekoura Coulibaly, Jourabe’s father.
“In the past when my child got sick with malaria I went to the bush and gather some tree leaves which are boiled and the sick child with malaria drinks it,” Tiekoura says.
Jourabe’s first sign of malaria was vomiting, then fever, followed by feeling dizzy with cold shivers and blood shot eyes.
“The first three days were the worst,” Tiekoura says.
For the first seven days, Jourabe drank the juice from boiled tree leaves twice a day in the morning and at night. “It was not pleasant to drink, it was very bitter,” Jourabe says.
“I felt hopeless and troubled,” Djenebou admits later. She told her daughter to be hopeful but in her own heart she felt hopelessness.
Tiekoura took Jourabe to hospital after one week as her condition did not improve. But before he could do that, he needed to find 4 800 cfa [about US $10]. He went around the village asking his friends to lend him money.
“I promise to pay you back after the harvest,” Tiekoura says, repeating the words he asked his neighbours with a smile. It took him one full day, from sunrise to sunset, to find enough money.
Finally, he was able to take Jourabe to the clinic. He had her sit on the back of his bike, on the rack and tried to pedal. Normally, the six kilometre bicycle ride usually takes thirty minutes. But Jourabe got malaria during August which has the highest rainfall. The road was very muddy and Tiekoura was required to get off the bicycle and push Jourabe and the bicycle through mud and water, dripping with sweat. He had to make stops along the way when Jourabe was vomiting.
“It was very difficult,” Tiekoura says.
An exhausted Tiekoura and a very sick Jourabe eventually arrived at the health centre where the doctor welcomed them and put Jouraba on a bed and examined her.
Malaria treatment for children under five years of age is free in Mali. The cost of malaria medicine for one child over five years of age is equivalent to one month’s supply of peanuts for Jourabe and her family.
August is peak season for cultivation where all the family members are working in the field pulling out the weeds so that they can get as much harvest as possible. When Jouraba got malaria they all stopped attending their crops and took care of Jouraba.
Jourabe tested positive for malaria. The doctor treated her and she recovered.
Nets are the solution
“I am glad to get mosquito net because it is the solution for malaria. The mosquito net is the solution for my suffering,” Tiekoura says. He continues to say, “A family with no malaria can develop and increase their economy and get stability.”
World Vision Mali distributed 422 800 insecticidal treated nets to families in 11 Area Development Programmes, including to Jourabe’s family. Ultimately, the organisation aims to reduce the cases of malaria by 75 per cent with the hope of having nearly zero preventable malaria deaths.