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Mother: My daughter died for nothing

By Jeff Koinange
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KILIFI, Kenya (CNN) -- In the northern Kenyan coastal town of Kilifi, a young mother grieves.

Twenty-six-year-old Sidi Nyanche has just lost her 4-month-old daughter, Ayeesha, to malaria -- a largely preventable disease that kills about 750,000 children each year in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

"My child died for nothing," Nyanche said in her native Swahili. "Her death could have easily been prevented."

As preventable as malaria can be, the mosquito-borne disease is often a death sentence in places like Kilifi, especially for children.

Last year alone, malaria claimed the lives of more than 34,000 children in Kenya, or roughly four every hour, according to health officials. (Watch more on efforts to fight malaria. Video )

On Thursday, President Bush and first lady Laura Bush will host a summit at the White House on malaria, bringing together leading health experts, African civic leaders and nongovernmental organizations to discuss options to fight the disease.

In June 2005, Bush launched a malaria initiative aimed at cutting malaria-related deaths in Africa in half over a five-year period.

According to the WHO, malaria kills more than 1 million people a year, most of them children in Africa -- young children dying at a rate of one every 30 seconds.

Experts say malaria is the biggest killer of children under the age of 5 in these areas, a bigger killer of children than HIV-AIDS.

"Malaria is predictable, it is preventable, it is treatable and it is curable," Davy Koech of the Kenya Medical Research Institute told CNN. "No one should die of malaria. It is only our lack of preparedness [that] is our sin.

"We should not lose people. Since we've talked, we've lost two people already. There's no reason for anyone to die of malaria."

Malaria is an infection caused by any one of four species of parasites of the genus Plasmodium that are carried from human to human by Anopheles mosquitoes.

But all is not bleak. In parts of Kenya, people are seeing improvements -- from something as simple as using a net over one's bed. But these are not ordinary mosquito nets. Scientists have developed specialized nets treated with a chemical repellent.

"The treatment of the nets serves the purpose of repelling and killing mosquitoes, thereby giving you twice the protection that you normally have when you use an ordinary net," said Rose Kibe of Population Services International, one of several nongovernmental organizations that distribute the nets, known as insecticide treated nets, or ITNs.

Every day at clinics across this northern Kenyan coastline, hundreds of mothers line up to get their infant children vaccinated against this killer disease.

And it's where people like Kibe come to talk to the mothers about purchasing what she calls life-saving nets.

For less than $5, she says, the fight against malaria can be rolled back.

More than 10 million of the nets have so far been distributed, but that's only half of what is needed to prevent the spread of malaria in Kenya.

When the nets are used consistently every night, Kibe said officials have seen malaria-related illnesses drop by 50 percent.

"Child mortality has been seen to decrease by up to 20 percent when children under 5 are sleeping under insecticide treated nets," Kibe said. "So it has proved to be one of the most effective methods of prevention for malaria."

But having the nets is one thing. Trying to convince a largely rural population with varying cultural beliefs and superstitions is quite another.

"Some people returned the bed nets back to the health centers where they'd collected them because there was a slight belief that some ghosts were talking to them at night and wanted to take their blood from under the nets," said Koech of the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

But as challenging as it sounds, this technique seems to be working.

"Communities only need to understand the reason that they need to use the nets. This is the most important thing," Kibe said.

She said locals need to know that malaria is not caused by things like dirty water and eating mangoes.

Once they are educated about the threat mosquitoes pose, residents will "understand the value of protecting themselves," Kibe said.

That's advice that comes too little too late for children like Sidi Nyanche's infant daughter, but it's also advice the mother is now seriously taking.

She has two other children in the most-at-risk group. Both now at least stand a fighting chance against this killer disease.


Malaria killed Sidi Nyanche's infant daughter. Her two other children are in the most-at-risk group.


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