Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
I was in Uganda with Katie Camillus helping her work on the establishment of a micro-loan enterprise for her work as a Lang Scholar. I asked one of the women who had been helping us, Aciro Santina, if there were children with malaria in the Acholi Quarter, and she said there were very many. She arranged to let me interview kids with malaria and their mothers.
I soon realized that there was little sense trying to interview the kids, because they were listless and most of them did not have the energy to talk. In fact, I began to feel extremely guilty for even asking the parents to bring their children with them. I asked the mothers a set of basic questions: name, were they married, how many kids did they have and their ages and names, tell me about their kid with malaria, how did you know the kid had malaria, what did you do for treatment, how much did treatment cost, how much money do you make per month, what is your occupation, how do you feel when your child gets malaria, do you use bednets, why or why not (almost everyone said they’d like to but it costs way too much money), etc.
We did not advertise that we would pay mothers for the interviews, but we wanted to compensate them for their time, so all participants were paid 2000 Ugandan shillings ($1.25). I felt guilty that this is such a small sum of money, but it is about twice as much as most women make in a day. The women came without any expectation of payment, but rather because I was a guest in their community: they were showing me the hospitality and kindness to visitors which is customary in the Acholi culture.
The interviews were relatively brief — about 10 minutes each. I took notes and transcribed what they said. Then I took photographs of the mothers and the kids. When possible, I took the photographs in the mother’s home. If that was not possible, I took them in the home of Esther (who appears in the exhibit), a community leader. I took at least 10 photos for each mother-child pair. Most of the women spoke English (a national language in Uganda), but a few did not. For these women, I relied on the use of translators.
I started out by asking how many times their children had had malaria, and I soon found that the inevitable response was, “This year?” Most of the children had contracted malaria so frequently that the disease was just a fact of life. Even if mothers could afford the treatment, the children continue to contract malaria again and again because they do not have a way to prevent the disease.
Life for many children becomes a cycle in which children get malaria, their parents do their best to scrounge up the money necessary for treatment, the children get better, and a few weeks or a month later, the children have malaria again. After this cycle happens too many times, the parents do not have any more money to pay for treatment.
Insecticide-treated bednets kill the mosquitoes that carry malaria and have the capacity to dramatically reduce malaria transmission. Unfortunately, at $10 per net, they are too expensive for all but the most well-off families: many of these women live on less than $1 a day. Again and again, mothers told me during their interviews that they would love to have bednets for their children, but they simply cannot afford them.
In order to address this problem, myself and other students have founded the Global Health Forum, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and funds for children in developing nations with infectious diseases. We have just launched an anti-malaria campaign, with numerous campus events to raise awareness about malaria. Our goal is to raise enough money to send nets to 1500 children in the Acholi Quarter – one child for every Swarthmore student. If every student purchased a $10 net, we would meet our goal, and if faculty, staff, and community members pitch in, we would be extremely grateful. Global Health Forum will cover all the costs of distributing the nets; all donations that we receive will go directly to buying bednets.
To send a $10 net by credit card, visit our secure website at http://www.MadnessAgainstMalaria.com/GlobalHealthForum and sponsor our campaign today! Or, to pledge to send a net, email email@example.com with the subject, “SEND A NET, SAVE A LIFE” and your name. At the conclusion of the campaign, you will be contacted by email with instructions on how to send your $10. For less than the price of a haircut, you can save a life.
Send a net, save a life!
Eunice and Oroma (2 years and 3 months old)
They are originally from Kitgum in the North and were displaced during the war; Oroma has had malaria 3 times. Eunice knows he has malaria because after the temperature is very high, she goes to the clinic and they check the blood. Now he is coughing, and hasn’t talked since he got malaria.
The treatment costs 20,000-60,000 Ugandan shillings ($15-$45), and Eunice makes 20,000 Ugandan shillings ($15) a week selling tomatoes – so malaria pills cost her half a month’s salary. She can’t afford to go back for more malaria pills because there is no more money.
She says: “It is not okay. When there is sickness you cannot feel okay. You become very worried. If it increases he will pass away. You just become very worried.”
Akello Pasqua and Amono Samuel (5 years old)
Akello has nine kids at the ages of 21, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 5, and 3, three of whom currently have malaria. At the beginning of this sickness he was not moving at all–he has been sick for two weeks. It is the 5th time he has been admitted to the clinic with malaria, though he has been sick many more times. She says, “I don’t have money to take the boy to the hospital. Samuel is sick again and there is no money for treatment.”
The clinic gave them quinine and syrup for 7,000 Ugandan shillings ($5), but they did not have enough money to pay. Akello Pasqua sells paper beads to raise money to take son to the clinic; the family does not have bednets.
Santina Aciro and Isaac (8 years old)
Santina is an orphan, and her parents and grandparents are dead. Santina also has a 6 year old and a 1 year old – Amito and Teddy. Issac has had malaria three times, but a quinine injection would cost between 5,000 and 30,000 Ugandan shillings (between $4 and $23).
She says, “He’d start vomiting. His body would become so hot, even the eyes – start crying. I feel so bad. The condition is so bad. The temperature is so high. The body is so hot. I want to have a bednet, but I do not have the money to buy it. 30,000 ($23) is the most I make in a month. But even the rent is 15,000 ($12.50) per month. If I did not have enough money, I would go to the stone quarry. But I am not going. I have chest pain. I don’t have money.”
Stella Amollo, Prisqua (1 year 6 months), and Katie (1.5 months), with Lalam Christine (8 years) and daughter Marcy (9 years) caring for them
Stella is a loan officer, so she makes 80,000 ($60) per month – an extremely high wage in the Acholi Quarter. Before the micro-loan enterprise came, she worked in the stone quarry crushing stones and made 30,000 ($23) a month– less than a dollar a day. She strongly disliked working in the stone quarry.
Marcy had malaria in June, was really sick, vomiting, could not eat, missed school for one week and could not study. Prisqua had malaria in June 2007, and has had malaria over 20 times per year. In June, she recovered after 4 injections which cost 12,000 ($8). Marcy recovered also after one week – had malaria treatment (10,000) and typhoid (30,000) – cost 40,000 ($30) total to treat.
Stella says, “I feel sad. I cannot be happy when she is sick. How can I feel better when she has not yet recovered? I need to get money, I need to take her to the hospital. I do not even have time to cook for these ones who are remaining. It stops me from working, even my personal work on paper beads, because I need to take care of them in the hospital.”
Amal Cecilia and Oren Simon (son, 12 years old)
Amal Cecilia has 8 children. She is not working. Her husband died, and she is supported by his army pension monthly salary of 240,000 per month ($180 – very high for this community). Oren is very sick and cannot eat. He’s been vomiting yellow, and he’s had malaria more then 20 times. Treatment costs 50,000 ($38) at the hospital, and the younger kids do not have bednets.
Amal Cecilia says, “When the sickness comes, he can’t even talk. He loses consciousness. Everyone thinks he is going to die. He starts feeling headache, then throwing up. Most times it comes suddenly when I do not have money, and I am not able to pay at once. The nurse knows me and allows me to pay in installments. I would like to have a bednet. There are so many things to pay for: the little money I get goes to school fees. I am the only one taking care of him – he has no father and there is so much to pay for. I feel pain. I feel so bad. They call suddenly, ‘Simon is sick.’ I feel such pain. It is always him. I pray to God.”
Agaeno Sarah and Orama Alex (6 year old son)
Alex has had malaria over 15 times, and Sarah has 3 children, and her husband is a builder whose income cycles vary. They made no money last month, so she stried to work in the quarry making 66 cents a day.
Sarah says, “When the temperature is so high, he begins talking like a mentally disturbed person. When he fell sick, we went to the hospital, got tablets, and he threw them up. They cost 60,000 ($45) – too much money. So he was unable to complete the treatment. I become mentally disturbed when the kid is badly off. My heart is gone. I feel nothing. I cannot even eat. I can’t sleep. I cry.”
Margaret and boy Oketa Emmanuel (1 year) and girl Atim Loy (6 years)
Margaret has 6 children. Emmanuel has had malaria seriously 4 times; Loy has had it over 20 times. Her husband works in the quarry, and so does she. She makes about $1 a day (1500-2000) and 45,000-60,000 a month total (up to $45) – combined, she and her husband make about $1.25 a day. Effect of quinine – child has diarrhea and vomits, then she feels better for a short time, then they fall sick again within two weeks.
Margaret says, “Whenever they fall sick, the temperature gets high. The girl begins convulsing. I have to keep putting cold water on them. With the boy, if I don’t take him to the hospital immediately, the treatment is more expensive. Most times I am not able to pay. I try to pay in installments. I plead with them. Then I go to the quarry. I work, I get a little money, I buy the medication. I can’t pay when I don’t have the money. I must use the money that I would use for eating. What can I do? Sometimes when the children fall sick I give them quinine tablets – it can help a little, but they get sicker until they get injections at the hospital. There is no money to buy the bednet. If I had the money then I would use them. When the children are sick, I feel sick. I become sick myself.”
Akello Helen and Irene (3 years 6 months)
Irene has had malaria over 20 times. Akello Helen has had 8 children, and two of them died of malaria, so now she has 6. Her husband is a builder – he earns about 30,000 ($23) a month, but the rent costs 50,000 ($37.50) a month. When her kids fall sick, they usually have malaria. Now Irene feels very dizzy when she is moving.
She says, “Irene cannot go two months without falling sick. When I give Irene tablets, she throws up. I pay in installments to the doctor until I can get the rest of the money. So many times, there is no money to take the child to the doctor. The child is sick now, but there is no money to take her to the clinic.”
“I feel so bad. It comes when I don’t have the money. The only way to save her is to take her to the clinic. I really feel pain. I feel frustrated. I pray to God that God should help the child because there is no money and I am powerless.
“I have a lot of problems. I am sick. I cannot do the hard work in the quarry. I have no source of income. I have chest problems. Some of the children are not studying because I have no money to pay for them. I am looking after two orphans. The orphans are not studying because I have no money to pay for them.”
Abalo Christine and Teresa (1 year, 4 months)
Teresa recently had malaria, and she has had malaria more than ten times. Christine works for HIV/AIDS organization and takes care of 2 orphans from her deceased brother, who was killed in the war in the north. She has 5 children, all of whom have had malaria.
Christine makes 110,000 ($83) a month and $1000 per year – but school for her oldest child alone costs 900,000 per year ($675).
She says, “When Teresa has malaria, she doesn’t want to breastfeed. The temperature is high. I rush her to the clinic. They test the blood for the parasite. We don’t have a good clinic here. Sometimes, when you don’t have money, you run to the neighbor. If the neighbor doesn’t have money, the child doesn’t get treatment. We have lost very many children here to malaria…malaria is very common. You find it in each and every family. If my child is sick, I also feel sick. I can’t even eat.”
Esther has 9 children; Dan Oyet (unpictured) is her son, 16, and Adoch Gloria (unpictured) is her daughter, 11
Gloria has had malaria 4 times, and Dan’s malaria has turned to mental illness. Esther makes money from the stone quarry and is a community leader.
She says, “He laughs at inappropriate times. It is so painful. My heart is panicked. I cannot eat food. How can I help him?” Of Gloria, “Her mood changes totally. She has terrible headaches. It is so painful for me. My heart is pained. I cannot eat food. How can I help her?”