Local leadership ensures that the nets continue to be used as instructed. They used to give the nets to each family still in their bags but are now welcomed into homes to hang them. (Photo: BGAV / More Than Nets)
What if you were told that all the residents of Tyler, Texas; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Burbank, California; and Cambridge, Massachusetts, were going to die over the next 12 months?
Would you take notice? Would it make a difference?
Would it matter if I told you that 70 percent of these losses were children ages 5 and younger and that a child would die every two minutes?
But, what if I also told you that $2.5 million could save each and every one of those lives?
Something tells me that, together, we would find a way to save those lives.
Welcome to the way of life for most of sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to 90 percent of malaria cases and 92 percent of malaria deaths each year.
Nearly half of the world population is at risk of contracting malaria with approximately 212 million cases reported in 2015 and more than 429,000 deaths.
Malaria is an infectious disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite, which is transmitted through the bites of female Anopheles mosquitoes. It must be treated or the infected person will eventually die.
These stark truths are the reasons that the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) chose to work alongside Ghanaian Baptists in the northern part of their country in an effort to arrest the spread of this disease.
The simple plan we created together is called More Than Nets. For a mere $10, we are able to buy a chemically treated mosquito net ($6), transport it to the village ($1), provide proper education on its use ($2) and share the lifesaving message of Jesus Christ ($1).
To date, we have distributed more than 80,000 nets into 270 villages and planted 245 churches, which have resulted in thousands coming to know Christ.
And, as a result of the net distribution, the local clinics have been able to record a 43 percent decrease in malaria cases in those villages.
The global rate of decrease over the past decade has been around 25 percent, but our efforts have proven to be more effective.
There are many organizations that distribute mosquito nets to affected regions of the world so we are, by no means, breaking new ground in that department.
However, one of the things we are doing differently is that we are creating an environment of regular follow-up on the use of the net once it is distributed.
Many organizations simply deliver nets to villages with no instruction on use or on other methods to reduce the mosquito population.
In our partnership, the local leadership makes regular visits to the churches in these villages to assist the village pastors through prayer, training and encouragement.
While visiting, they walk through the village and ensure that the nets continue to be used as instructed.
To be clear, the nets are not used as a means for conversion or church participation. Everyone in the village receives a net. But the church is an effective means for follow-up, encouragement and accountability.
Emmanuel Mustapha is the pastor of a local church and serves as our key leader in the area of our work.
"The distribution of the mosquito nets in the Yendi District is God's love working through God's people in the lives of many," he said. "Mosquitoes are more than a great nuisance to the people; they are an enemy, yet one cannot fight them with guns; the treated nets are the weapons to fight them."
More Than Nets had an initial goal of 100,000 nets, which we hope to complete this year. Because of the relationships that are being built and the strength of the indigenous church planters and their desire to change their world, I believe that this will continue to be a mutually beneficial partnership.
That is what happens naturally when you choose to walk alongside someone with shared values and a passion to change people's lives.
I find it somewhat amazing that something as small and fragile as a mosquito can cause so much devastation.
And yet I also find it equally amazing that something as inexpensive and simple as thin, fabric netting can provide protection for several years that may ultimately save a person's life.
And this simple device will definitely make that person's life (and his family's lives) more secure emotionally, physically and even spiritually.
It honestly does not take much of anything to make a difference in this world, near or far, when we choose to do it together. I think the hardest part is simply making the decision to actually do something.
So, as we mark this day to raise awareness of this disease, I believe that "awareness" is simply not enough. Skip your coffee or dessert today and choose to do something; it really can be that simple.
Dean Miller is mission development staff coordinator at the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
Editor's note: This article is part of a series for World Malaria Day (April 25).
Previous articles in the series are:
Baptist Church Plays Role in Curbing Malaria in Ghana
How Baptists Are Taking the Fight to Malaria