In malaria-prone Mozambique, two girls live very different lives. One is protected by a mosquito net; the other is not. A handful of gossamer threads treated with insecticide makes all the difference.
Marita Adelino is not your average 10-year-old. In a world where children typically want so much, she wants only two things—a best friend and a mosquito net. Yearning for a friend is sketched across her face, a portrait of loneliness.
And the desire for a mosquito net? Marita is terrified of the tiny, sinister creatures that spread malaria, the disease that killed her best friend, Marta João, last year. Marita cared for her sick friend, cradling her head as it burned with fever, lifting cup after cup of cool water to Marta’s lips. But malaria won, and now Marita is alone.
Amid the happy warble of learning at Muera Primary School in Mozambique’s Zambezia Province, Marita sits quietly at her desk. Headmaster Abrão Salimo Cassamo, 45, says she is a different girl since her friend died.
He, too, misses Marta João. “We really had high hopes for that child,” he says. “She would have changed something.”
Malaria, which killed 655,000 people worldwide in 2010, is a major killer of African children.
“The saddest thing is that you lose a person not knowing their full capacity—what might have been,” says Chandana Mendis, who directs the Global Fund Malaria Project for World Vision. “These children are the buds which will never flower.”
Marta’s father, Manuel João, 43, lost four children—three to malaria. Aissa died on the back of Manuel’s bicycle as he pedaled madly to get her to the hospital in 2007. Another daughter, Rebeca, lived for one year and five months; she died in 2009.
And then he lost Marta. “She was a very loveable person,” he says. “In our African families, the girls, although they are small, they are like mothers. They are so caring.” Marta was her parents’ helpmate. She fetched firewood and water and cared for her younger siblings.
“She was so alive,” he says. “She would say, ‘I want to be a teacher. I want to be a nurse.’ ” Marta’s absence leaves a palpable void. “I feel that something has left me,” Manuel says. “I have nothing to lean on.”
“Malaria is like war, but it’s a big war. It’s not a small war.”—Manuel, Marta’s father
Marta was bitten in January 2011, during the high season for malaria when it is hot and wet in Mozambique. Water stands in pools and puddles. The mosquitos breed and bite. The female anopheles mosquito spreads the disease. She needs a blood meal before she mates; if a family has no mosquito net, anyone can be her victim.
Malaria is a disease of poverty. An insecticide-treated net can prevent death, but even the few dollars a net costs can be largely out of reach in Mozambique, where the national per capita income is $400—about a dollar a day. Farmers like Manuel earn far less than that.
“Malaria is like war,” he says. “But it’s a big war. It’s not a small war. In a war, you can negotiate. But with malaria, you cannot. With war, maybe there is a place of peace. But with malaria, you cannot find a peaceful place. If there was, we would all go there together.”
Marta received a mosquito net too late. When death came, her parents followed tradition and buried her with all her earthly possessions, including the net. They wrapped their once bright, vibrant daughter in the blue gossamer threads and laid her in the earth.
Marita did not go to Marta’s funeral. But she still goes to visit her friend’s family. “We are happy she comes,” says Manuel. “We see that our daughter lives in her.”
Watch what happens as World Vision magazine writer Kari Costanza spends the night under a mosquito net in Mozambique. Does she wake up mosquito-bite free?
Mindset Change in Nampula
North of Zambezia, in Nampula Province, malaria and mosquitoes could not be farther from Delfina Candido’s mind. There is too much for the third-grader to do today with exams at school and washing her clothes for afternoon choir practice.
The 8-year-old sits on her bed with her two best friends, Angelina and Boassane. The girls swing their feet in rhythm, Delfina’s feet touching the toes of friends on either side. They sit under a canopy of mosquito netting, which World Vision provided last year.
“After church, we will play all day long until we come back home,” says Delfina. She and her friends are avid jump ropers.
Outside, Delfina’s father, Eduardo, 35, thumbs through his daughter’s Portuguese workbook, mouthing the words out loud. Eduardo grew up during the civil war in Mozambique and missed out on a proper education.
Twenty years ago, Eduardo helped rebuild roads in his community of Namakai. It was World Vision’s first project in the area. As the country struggled to recover from 500 years of Portuguese domination and a decade of civil war after independence, there was little to build upon. World Vision gave men like Eduardo cash for work, and staff distributed seeds and tools so families could begin to farm again.
“[Before, malaria] was constant,” he says.“It moved from one person to another. It never stopped.”—Lokhan Rongchon
Child sponsorship also came in Namakai. Evidence of sponsors’ generosity and the parents’ work ethic can be seen in Eduardo’s home: Everything is immaculate. The yard is swept baseball-diamond clean, brush strokes still visible. There are two houses and a covered area for relaxing around a table, all enclosed by a tall fence. Eduardo recently built the second house to better accommodate his wife, Aida, and Delfina and her sisters, Delsia, 6, and 2-year-old Graciosa.
Last year, World Vision provided mosquito nets and training on how to use them in Nampula. Since then, malaria has left Eduardo’s family alone. “[Before] it was constant,” he says. “It moved from one person to another. It never stopped.”
Pray for African children, who on average suffer between 1.6 and 5.4 episodes of malaria each year. Pray that more families will receive the bed nets that protect them from dangerous mosquitoes.
With his family in better health, Eduardo has increased his fields, and his profits from rice, cassava, and peanuts skyrocketed. Before, he could sell 10 bags of peanuts at $50 per bag. After the nets were installed, his yield increased to 15 bags. In peanuts alone, Eduardo earned an extra $250 last year. He purchased a bed with his peanut crop profits. “The children slept on mats before,” he says.
Community awareness is critical to the success of net distributions. World Vision staff members demonstrate the correct way to hang the nets and conduct spot checks afterward to make sure families are using them correctly. Staff also encourages latrine use, the practice of filling in puddles, and disposing of standing water, where mosquitos breed.
No Longer Afraid
As the sun begins to weaken in the winter sky, Delfina’s mother, Aida, arrives home, carrying baby Graciosa. Aida, 25, is taking a three-day course in health and nutrition to better care for herself and her family. “Now I have time for other activities. I can do more things,” she says. “I am not worried about the children home with malaria.”
She’s delighted to live in a place where her children benefit from sponsorship. “I am grateful for World Vision. I never knew there was such a thing as a net that would protect me from mosquitos,” she says.
Aida describes how the mosquitos use to swarm and bite as night fell. The darker it got, the louder the buzzing became. But now she ignores the sound. “We pretend they don’t exist because now the mosquitos are on the outside,” she says with a smile. “However much noise they make—that’s up to them.”
“I am sure we can win this battle.”—Pablo Varela, Zambezia’s malaria project coordinator
Delfina is doing beautifully at nearby Naterre Primary School. “She rarely misses school,” says her headmaster, Alfredo Francisco. “Delfina has very good grades.”
In fact, everyone’s grades have gone up since the nets arrived, in part because children are not missing classes. Last year four to five students missed school daily because of malaria.
“Before, our prayers were [for] God to protect our family and for our children to be healthy,” says Aida. “Now we thank God for everything that he has done.”
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Now families can flourish. That’s why World Vision is dedicated to defeating malaria in Mozambique. “I am sure we can win this battle,” says Pablo Varela, Zambezia’s malaria project coordinator who lost a sister to the disease.
Victory involves canvassing the country with 2 million mosquito nets, including 700,000 in Zambezia, where Marita and her family live. World Vision uses trained volunteers, radio messages, focus groups, radio spots—anything to get the word out that mosquito nets, when used properly, can save lives.
It’s a strategy that’s already working in Nampula Province. Bite-free nights are leading to industrious days for parents like Eduardo and Aida, and healthy children like Delfina have better grades and time to play with friends. Delfina is living the life that Marita craves—thanks to a mosquito net that takes fear out of life and robs death of its sting.