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Ray Chambers

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Remembering the Burden of Malaria on Mother's Day

Posted: 05/09/09 12:15 PM ET

Progress is being made to save the lives of mothers and newborns around the world. Still, every minute, a woman dies of complications in pregnancy and childbirth, leaving her baby more likely to die within two years. Most of these deaths could be prevented. Join The Huffington Post and the Mothers Day Every Day campaign in the global movement to call upon world leaders to invest in health workers and strengthen health systems so that every day, everywhere in the world, all women and newborns have access to lifesaving care.

Our nation celebrates mothers on May 10th. Amidst the joy that we will share with our loved ones sits the reality that too many women and children in certain parts of our planet face the cruel, unrelenting challenges posed by malaria.

Without question, malaria's pain extends far and wide, infecting one quarter of one billion people each year and taking nearly one million lives on an annual basis. Africa not only suffers 90 percent of the world's malaria-related fatalities, but, as a consequence of its high disease burden, loses billions of dollars in economic productivity, ensnaring generations in a vicious cycle of poverty.

Malaria truly moves without a conscience, devastating young and old, male and female, leaving everyone in endemic regions at risk. On Mother's Day, though, the unique burden shouldered by women enters into sharper and sadder focus.

The disease strikes infants, children under five and pregnant women in astonishing disproportion, as these segments of the population account for 90 percent of malaria deaths. Given the dual role of women as both victim and primary protector of victims, malaria clearly belongs under the umbrella of traditional women's health issues. It deserves particular attention as a priority in maternal health, which the World Health Organization defines as pregnancy, childbirth and the six-week postpartum period.

Poor health and even death stalk the early stages of motherhood in Africa, where one-in-five newborns will not reach their fifth birthdays. Mothers confront an endless series of menaces, from malnutrition to dehydration, but nothing raises a fiercer specter to the well-being of their children than malaria. Those children who manage to survive the disease often face lifelong hardships, as malaria depletes nutrients at an early age essential to the development of their brains and bodies.

Maternal health, in particular, endures the ravages of the disease. Pregnancy in Africa carries an inherent risk for mothers, too frequently resulting in maternal fatality. The contraction of malaria by a pregnant woman only elevates the danger she will encounter. Those pregnant women afflicted by the disease deal with a greater chance of delivering low-birth-weight babies, a major cause of infant mortality.

On this Mother's Day, as some families rejoice, others grapple with the dispiriting consequences of an existence marred by malaria; however, on this Mother's Day, signs of hope appear.

We draw hope from the knowledge that we can prevent deaths from malaria among women and children through the application of proven interventions, especially by having them sleep under a long-lasting insecticidal mosquito net (LLIN).

We see hope in the collective global will and resources we have harnessed to turn the tide against malaria, including over $3 billion in funding, the commitment to cover all those at risk with lifesaving interventions by December 2010 and the declaration that we will end deaths from the disease by 2015.

We discover hope in the data revealing that LLINs now have been distributed to more than 45 percent of the population in endemic African nations and that 140 million LLINs have been distributed over the past three years, offering protection to nearly 300 million people.

We find hope in the efforts of the United Kingdom's Sarah Brown, who has brought to the issue of maternal health unparalleled attention and transformative action. Her understanding of the link between malaria and maternal mortality promises to yield dramatic results not only in the malaria sphere, but across the entire landscape of sub-Saharan Africa.

On this Mother's Day, when we express our most profound appreciation of the women who gave us life, we glimpse a future where malaria no longer denies so many mothers the happiness, gratitude and fulfillment they so richly deserve.

The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and CARE, two organizations at the forefront of global women's health issues, have joined Secretary Donna Shalala and UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman and a distinguished group of advocates to promote Mothers Day Every Day, a campaign that raises awareness and advocates for greater U.S. leadership to improve maternal and newborn health globally as part of a global campaign uniting advocates around the world to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity. Follow the action at www.twitter.com/WRAGLOBAL.To learn more, visit www.mothersdayeveryday.org.


Check out the rest of our Countdown to Mother's Day series by clicking here