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 30 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.
It is estimated that 50 million women become pregnant in malaria-endemic areas annually, half of them in sub-Saharan Africa alone. The toll this disease takes on mothers and their children is not negligible as studies indicate that malaria indirectly causes at least 25,000 maternal health deaths and between 75,000 and 200,000 newborn deaths each and every year.
I am a child of Africa. I have drank water from the river Nile and I have swam in Lake Victoria. I have witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of malaria.
This is why throughout my career in the Senate I have been devoted to finding ways to help eradicate this disease. Most recently, I was in Uganda where I visited a maternal health clinic in Kawempe, which is located in Kampala, Uganda.
During this visit I was informed that this clinic is often over capacity forcing three or four women to share a single bed. In addition to space constraints, HIV positive patients are treated alongside non-HIV patients in an effort to avoid stigmatization. As a result several women are infected during their time at the clinic.
While I was in Kawempe I also received confirmation that maternal health and malaria do indeed go hand in hand. After speaking with several nurses and patients I learned that although these women were no longer as vulnerable to childbirth complications such as fistula, they still continued to battle entirely preventable diseases such as malaria.
Maternal health clinics like the one I visited in Kawempe allow pregnant women to receive the medical attention required to ensure that both they and their newborns are protected. They act as great resource to the community.
However, it is important to remain mindful of the fact that these very women are still susceptible to diseases such as malaria.
Maternal health clinics need to have the resources necessary to ensure that their patients are protected from diseases such as malaria. This can be done by distributing insecticide treated mosquito nets, providing rapid diagnostic tests in remote under-serviced areas, ensuring that intermittent presumptive malaria drugs are administered to pregnant women and that anti-malarial drugs are readily available and affordable.
Although non-profit organizations such as Buy-A-Net and Roll Back Malaria have made great strides towards combating this epidemic there is still great progress to be made.
Canada recently pledged $1.1 billion toward a maternal health initiative in an effort to ensure that pregnant women and children are protected.
However after working on the ground and visiting maternal health clinics like the one in Kawempe I strongly believe maternal health and malaria should be addressed simultaneously as the two go hand-in-hand.
As a Senator who represents the province of British Columbia I am extremely proud of the student body at UNBC who just recently won the national Spread the Net Challenge and I would like to congratulate them for raising over $18,000.
This money will be used to send mosquito nets to Africa. By making such a generous contribution these students have made a great impact on the lives of thousands of families in Africa.
As we commemorate World Malaria Day on the 25th of April I strongly urge you to follow in the footsteps of the students at UNBC and donate $10 towards purchasing a net that can save a life.