12/05/2012 06:54 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2013

Defeating Malaria to Defend Dreams

Three months ago, I shared a story about a Ugandan girl -- Christine Akullo -- who is sponsored through ChildFund International and was preparing to compete in the Paralympics in London. The events for which Christine had trained so hard went on without her, because she suddenly became ill with malaria.

Despite Christine's positive spirit throughout the ordeal, the reality was there would be no memories of the nervousness she felt before her races, no stories of crossing the finish line, no opportunities to bring home a gold medal to Uganda and no more opportunities for me to share with the world the excitement of ChildFund's shining Paralympic star. With heaviness in my heart, I realized Christine's dream had come to a halt because of a bite from a single infected mosquito.

In the U.S., a mosquito bite typically ends in nothing more than an annoying itch for a few days and maybe a blemish on the skin. How can it be that on the other side of the ocean, mosquitos are literally sucking hopes and dreams from children and their families? According to Malaria Envoy, worldwide, malaria causes around 350 to 500 million illnesses and more than 650,000 deaths annually.

In most of the 31 countries where ChildFund works -- 27, to be exact -- one bite from an infected mosquito can be both a serious health and financial burden. Typically, parents in our program areas cannot afford the treatment for malaria or insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets to decrease the chances of infection. It is a horrifying experience for the child and the parent. No parents should have to watch their child suffer from fever, sweating, chills and headaches. No parent should have to fear losing a child to a disease that, in most cases, can be cured with a few pills.

ChildFund works with local organizations and governments to provide preventive measures such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets and medication so children don't have to die. ChildFund also works through its partners to educate children and families on how to prevent malaria. Often children learn the lessons through skits that they share with their communities.

Positive strides have been made, but there is still work to be done. According to the United Nations, the worldwide push in anti-malaria efforts between 2008 and 2010 "resulted in the provision of enough insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs) to protect more than 578 million people at risk in sub-Saharan Africa." Malaria cases, hospital admissions and deaths have dropped by more than 50 percent.

One of the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals is to end malaria deaths by 2015, and it can be done. You can help: Share our infographic slideshow to educate others about the harsh reality of malaria, or purchase an insecticide-treated mosquito net for a child from ChildFund's Gifts of Love & Hope catalog.

Although Christine suffered a great disappointment in not being well enough to compete in London, she was one of the lucky ones. She had access to the meds to help her fight malaria. Let's work to make sure every child has that opportunity.