Last week, I attended a Malaria 101 briefing on Capitol Hill here in Washington, D.C. We heard from a panel of experts from the President’s Malaria Initiative, the Peace Corps, and the Center for Disease Control, all of whom are embedded in the fight to combat the spread of malaria. I’d heard a lot of facts before, many of which were focused on the details of the disease (you’ve probably heard them to if you’ve been keeping with our renewed partnership with Nothing But Nets!). The panel covered points such as

  • A child dies every 60 seconds from malaria.
  • Over 600,000 people die each year from the disease, crippling Africa’s economy by costing the continent $12 billion annually.

But here was something fascinating I learned: At the turn of the 19th century, malaria was so bad in the southeastern U.S., and particularly in the D.C. area, that foreign dignitaries who were stationed in Washington were given danger pay!

Imagine if we didn’t have the tools or resources to eliminate malaria in the U.S. or if our Members of Congress had to take malaria pills or sleep under bed nets while serving in the Capitol. And what if our tax dollars had to be used to provide them with danger pay? Spring is in the air here in D.C. and I’ve already seen a few mosquitos out. But because we could eradicate the disease in the U.S., I don’t – nor does Congress – have anything to worry about except the occasional, annoying itchiness.

But imagine if those mosquitos still did carry the malaria parasite. How would Congress then think about malaria and other diseases? My hunch is that funding for important programs such as the President’s Malaria Initiative and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria would be well supported.

This is a struggle that all activists on global issues face: Why should we care? And once we do care, how can we get others to care? There’s an easy answer: Other people’s struggle was once our struggle. And these struggles are rooted in our Jewish tradition, which teaches us that we cannot stand idly by while others suffer from poverty, disease or violence.

So let’s act. Send a letter to your Representative and Senators to let them know that you care about eradicating malaria, and that they should too. Ask them to imagine how different their lives would be if Washington was still plagued by the disease. It’s easy and it takes just a minute. Click here to send a letter to Congress, and when you’re done, browse our website for ideas about how to bring malaria awareness to your congregation.