upper room daily devotions

Monday, April 25, 2011

World Malaria Day - Imagine No Malaria - My History with Mosquito Borne Illness

I grew up in a town that had been ravaged by yellow fever in the boom of industrialization after the Civil War. In 1878, yellow fever swept in to the United States from Cuba via New Orleans, LA and began to crawl up the Lower Mississippi River Valley decimating towns. Ships were fumigated, areas were quarantined, people were subjected to bloodletting and they were given quinine and carbolic acid, but nothing stopped the spread of yellow fever or its deadly effects. By July, the disease had found its way to Memphis, TN; over half of the population, an estimated 20,000-27,000 people out of a total of 47,000, fled the city to rural areas to escape the epidemic. The cost to Memphis bankrupted the city. Just south of it, in Holly Springs, MS, where I grew up, the effects were just as severe. Resting at an altitude of 720 feet above sea level, the town thought itself safe from the epidemic. The common wisdom at the time indicated that yellow fever could not exist above 500 feet above sea level. The town welcomed people fleeing from Memphis as well as from other small towns. The courthouse was turned into a hospital. Despite their optimism, though, Holly Springs would fall victim along with the rest of the region. By the end of the year, 1440 people contracted it and 304 died of it. Across, the region, yellow fever struck over 120,000 people with over 5,000 dying from it.

Yellow fever was attributed to poor hygiene and sanitation. It wasn't until two years after the epidemic that a Cuban physician indicted mosquitos in the disease's cause and spread and it took another 22 years before Walter Reed would finally prove that mosquitos were the source of the disease.

As a child, I used to give people tours of the Yellow Fever House in Holly Springs. I remember thinking how long ago 1878 seemed, how distant those deaths, how such things couldn't happen today. I remember that I couldn't imagine living in that place where mosquitos had been able to spread disease without restraint.

Now, I can. I have been in places ravaged by malaria. I have seen children and adults tired, red-eyed, feverish, and sick because of a mosquito bite. I have spoken with parents whose children have died and children whose parents have died all because of mosquitos. Unlike the Lower Mississippi River Valley in the 1800's, however, we know that mosquitos carry malaria. We know that a simple treated bed net will save a life. We have medicines that can treat infected people and prevent infection in others. When I have traveled to regions with malaria, I have been privileged enough to be able to take a net along with me and take prophylactic medication. Yet, there is no reason that I should have such easy access to these if people living in the areas affected do not.

Today is World Malaria Day. I do not live in Congo, but I did live in Holly Springs. I grew up knowing that ignorance allowed mosquitos to spread disease and kill thousands upon thousands of people. Today we are not ignorant of the causes or treatments of malaria. And yet, every 45 seconds a child dies of malaria somewhere in Africa. There is no excuse not to eradicate malaria in our life time. I implore you to take the $20 that you would spend at lunch and send a net, save a life. Stop malaria today.

1 comment:

ttennheat said...

I didn't realize the history behind yellow fever. Thanks for sharing.I hope people realize the same devastation that took place with yellow fever in the States is taking place in Africa with malaria.

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