By “Papa” Maury Clark
March 24, 2013 (SSNA) — In many ways far too much time has passed between us without connecting these past twelve months. You see, this 72 year old man has been quite ill. I contracted malaria in Juba, South Sudan last year, and took a pretty bad fall. I simply thought that I was not acclimating to the heat, even though it had never hit me like this before. I really thought that the hot sweats would go away, but it got worse.
I apparently passed out as I fell, and I don’t really recall much of it, but since my return to America, I have been slowly recovering. My detached retina has healed, and after three operations on my back and left leg, I am beginning to move fairly normally.
A more basic impact of my malaria has been liver damage that is a common result, restricts my diet, and leaves me very exhausted much of the time. Exhausted, but still alive. And that brings me to the real subject of this piece: MALARIA!
The western, white world really does not really internalize the death, and personal tragedy inflicted by malaria upon the black people of Sub-Saharan Africa. To paraphrase a saying that is a reality in this case: “One death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic”.
I hope to bring the tragedy of loss due to malaria home to those who are blissfully unaware. Perhaps I can translate the “statistics” to a comprehensible awareness level for good people who are caring, but at an intellectual distance from the grief suffered by every family in Africa due to malaria.
More than ONE MILLION people die of malaria every year according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) report #151. Malaria is a preventable disease. The death of so many people caused by a mosquito bite that could largely be prevented by use of treated bed nets is incomprehensible to me.
To bring this statistic home- 90% of the deaths due to malaria occur in Africa. 900,000 PEOPLE IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA will die needlessly of a disease that could easily, and inexpensively be prevented. A bed-net would reduce that statistic so much that it could become rare to find a death caused by malaria.
An even more terrifying statistic is that 70% of those deaths will be children under the age of five. That means that 630,000 CHILDREN WILL DIE EVERY SINGLE YEAR- more than 1,731 deaths every single day. Your children! Our children!- needlessly, painfully lost to us because we didn’t have the necessary $10 USD to buy that net.
I was walking through the village of Yirol early one evening in 2007, accompanied by Laat Bec who is a member of my family, and brother to three of his siblings here in America with me. Laats wife is a nurse at the clinic. And as we walked toward that bombed-out building, there were perhaps forty or more women and children who were camped under a big, old mango tree because the clinic had no more beds.
Lying on a mat in the fading sunlight of the evening was a young mother with her two year old son. This child could not have weighed much more than 20 pounds. He was curled up like the child in Kevin Carters picture that is at the beginning of this story. Laat translated into Dinka when I asked of this childs mother to tell me his name and what horrifying illness he suffered with. His name was Deng, and he was stricken with malaria. His mother held him up to me, and I cradled this child in my arms and said a prayer before carefully returning him to his mother. I could hardly breathe as he curled up again on the mat.
The following morning, I again returned to the clinic, but the mother and child were no longer there. I asked, and was told that Deng had died that night, and that his mother was returning with the body of her son to her village for burial. I wept. I had held that child in my arms. I had said a prayer for healing, or a welcoming of this young child named Deng into Gods kingdom if Deng was to be called home. YOU CANNOT TELL ME THAT THIS YOUNG BOY WAS A STATISTIC! I will not ever forget him.
I am anguished simply by remembering Deng. Just one more number in the cold hard statistics of needless death and starvation of my people, my family, and all families in South Sudan. I am the old white Dinka called Papa Maury, and the world needs to know that statistics are made of real people and real loss.
I would like to think that my story will prompt action that will help the world understand the tragedy that is an everyday reality to the Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, Bari and all of the great people of Sub-Saharan Africa. My “statistic” had a name:
THAT “STATISTICS” NAME WAS DENG!
By the grace of God, maybe the world is awakening to the devastation of malaria. Great medical strides are being made toward medical prevention and a real cure for malaria thanks to the dedication and gifts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In the meantime, a childs life can be saved today if you have $10.00 to spare. That is the cost of a treated net. One childs life- $10.00.
The Author is a retired investment banker/broker, as well as a Called and Commissioned Deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Northwest Washington Synod. He served under Bishops Appointment as pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Maple Valley, Washington in 1990 and 1991, and also served four years on the Synod Council. He has been deeply involved with the people of Southern Sudan since 1996, and is an advisor to the Government of South Sudan.