On my 5th birthday, I was surrounded by the love of my family, and of course, enjoyed a delicious home-made birthday cake made by my mother. Everyone came to celebrate my day, showering me with gifts (I’m told a Barbie play set was involved), to show me how important I was in their lives. While it was a big milestone for me, luckily I was a healthy child, and it was expected that I would reach the age of five. In my first five years of life, I was up to date on my vaccinations, always had access to clean water, and although mosquitoes loved to bite me, my parents did not have to fear that those mosquitoes would infect me with malaria.
For much of the world though, and particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, mosquitoes pose an ever-present threat to children’s lives, especially in those first five years. In the last year alone, we lost about 7 million children under the age of five, many from malaria.
When I traveled to Ghana in the summer of 2010, I had the misfortune of experiencing malaria firsthand. I met children who were full of joy one day, but lying in bed sick the next- their energy and health devastated by the disease. When I contracted the disease, I understood the extent of their sickness, falling into an extreme fatigue. Thankfully, I had easy access to treatment and recovered quickly, but I know this is not the case for many children and families. I can’t imagine the pain and difficulty so many mothers must experience on a daily basis, unable to provide their children with the life-saving resources needed to prevent and treat malaria.
In my work as a Faiths Act Fellow, I’ve seen the great value that the world’s major religions place on caring for those who are suffering, and ensuring a hope and a future for children everywhere. In my own tradition, the Bible tells a story of Jesus welcoming children when others pushed them away. As he says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14b). We are told that children are a reflection of God, and it is our faithful duty to nurture and care for them. Whether rich or poor, each child’s life has immense worth, and we must seize the opportunity now to end preventable child deaths.
We have the tools to prevent deaths from malaria, and together we can save half a million children’s lives each year. Through insecticide treated bednets, education programs, and other resources, we can make sure more children are able to live healthy, malaria-free lives. And that means more 5th birthdays.
Together we can support effective strategies to prevent childhood deaths and ensure that more children have the opportunity to survive beyond their 5th birthday. Upload a picture of your 5th birthday today, and share why you believe that Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday!
Carolyn Worthge is a Faiths Act Fellow working at the ONE Campaign.