An Effective Fix for a Devastating Disease

"Malaria made me and my family poor," says Ngoy Kabulo, 52, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "Every day, we would wake up with swollen bodies because of mosquito bites," he says. "Our two small children had anemia every month, and we were always spending money on the hospital."

Like many of his neighbors in the DRC, Kabulo and his family were vulnerable and poor to begin with, but malaria compounded his struggles on a regular basis. He ekes out a living farming the sandy soil around his mud-brick home in rural Kamina Township, feeding his family of 12 on barely $1 a day.

Every time Kabulo, a child, or another family member had to be rushed to the hospital because of malaria -- at least once a month, Kabulo says -- his precarious family budget evaporated. He would spend as much as a third of his monthly income on a single visit. Ten dollars may seem relatively insignificant in New York City -- the price of a (discounted) movie ticket -- but it is a small fortune to Kabulo.

But a very simple item -- a long-lasting insecticide-treated bed net -- can help put a stop to this escalation. When coupled with malaria-fighting, awareness-raising efforts, it can reverse the trend and even end the threat posed by this totally preventable disease to families like Kabulo's.

Through its Imagine No Malaria (INM) initiative, The United Methodist Church (UMC) has distributed more than a million bed nets in half a dozen countries in Africa. The program is successful, the church says, because it relies on trusted faith networks and local community leaders to engage the beneficiaries. And it also is dedicated to helping build the capacity of those networks and leaders.

A year after INM worked with other organizations in a massive distribution of bed nets in Sierra Leone, for instance, INM's implementation area, Bo District, was found to have more children under the age of five -- the most vulnerable population -- sleeping under a net than in any other district. When a monitoring exercise asked program beneficiaries where they heard about the campaign, the most common response in Bo was: "from the pastor or imam."

The point is that the UMC is implementing a holistic strategy that invests in community mobilization, and that strategy is yielding real results. For about the same cost that Kabulo would spend on each hospital visit -- or you or I would spend to go to the movies -- INM provides families with nets and the training in how to use and care for them; hospital health boards with capacity building and leadership training; and mothers and children with related health information, vaccinations and medicines.

Like the spiraling effects of malaria infection, $10 spent to prevent the disease also produces a chain reaction -- but of a positive kind. Kabulo and his family received the long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets along with information for keeping mosquitoes at bay. "My family is healthy," he reports, "and we are saving money to meet other family needs." The program, he says, "saved our lives."

In the U.S., the incidence of malaria is minimal. Of the more than 216 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2010, only about 1,700 occurred in the United States. But it is not so difficult here to imagine the snowballing effects of devastating chronic disease, and how simple actions can greatly encourage prevention.

More familiar to us in the U.S., perhaps, is the notion of "paying it forward," of giving from our substance -- even in a small way -- to produce a life-giving, chain-reaction in the lives of others, especially children.

This blog is part of our #GivingTuesday series, produced by The Huffington Post and the teams at InterAction, 92nd Street Y, United Nations Foundation, and others. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday -- which takes place for the first time on Tuesday, November 27 -- is a movement intended to open the holiday season on a philanthropic note. Go to to learn more and get involved.