Joel and Benter Aketch, a couple from western Kenya.
Credit: Gregory Di Cresce/IRIN
Of the more than one million people who die of malaria every year, hundreds of thousands are African children. Most of these children die at home, having never seen a healthcare worker, let alone a doctor or a hospital. Misconceptions about the disease, the different ways it presents itself in children compared to adults and, of course, poverty all conspire to make malaria the most lethal infection for children under age five in Africa. Children in this age group are more susceptible to the deadly effects of malaria because their immune systems have yet to fully develop.

The following is a brief, but typical, interview with Joel and Benter Akech, a couple from western Kenya whose three-and-a-half-month-old infant Catherine likely died of malaria.

QUESTION: When did Catherine die?

Benter: Catherine died three days ago. She was three-and-a-half months old.

Q: What did she die of?

Benter: She had some problems with her breathing. She had a fever and the back of her head was becoming hot. Maybe it was measles. I don’t think it was malaria.

Q: Do you have any other children?

Benter: Yes. We had one other. He died of the same symptoms.

Q: What can you do to make sure your next child does not die like this?

Joel: My wife has a problem with her breast milk. When she offers it to her children they don’t suckle and as a result grow weak. That’s why they succumb to disease -- because they lack the milk from the mother.

Q: Do you worry at all about malaria affecting you or any subsequent children you may have?

Joel and Benter: Yes.

Q: What method of malaria prevention do you plan on using?

Joel: A bed net.

Q: Do you know anyone who has lost a child to malaria?

Benter: No.

Q: Do you know anybody who has had malaria?

Joel: My wife has had it. My mom. My brother’s wife. They’ve all suffered bouts of malaria.

Q: Is malaria common here?

Joel: It’s here, but only a small rate. It’s not common.

Q: Why is it not so prevalent here?

Joel: Because people use bed nets.

Q: Don’t the mosquitoes bite when you are outside the bed net?

Joel: Yes, but not that much.

Q: Do you currently own a bed net?

Joel: Yes, but it is torn.

Q: When are you going to get a new one?

Joel: There is no money to repair the net or get a new one.

Q: On the list of important things, where is replacing or fixing the net?

Joel: It is at the bottom.

Q: Why?

Joel: Because of money.

Q: And what is at the top of the list?

Joel: Food is at the top of the list.
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