Two Killers Combined To Threaten Hundreds of Children's Lives

Venetia Dearden/VII


"During my mission with Doctors Without Borders in Koutiala, Mali, I witnessed the disastrous effect of two killers combining to threaten the lives of thousands of children: malnutrition and malaria.

"Many of the kids in the region are weakened by malnutrition. On top of that, they are hit each year with three or four bouts of malaria. Being sick makes them even weaker, with their chance at survival dropping with each new complication.

"While working with Doctors Without Borders, I chose to focus on treating malnutrition because I've seen how this one intervention, although very simple, can have miraculous results and change a child’s life forever.

"Many of my precious memories from Mali are from the time I spent with my little friend Tidjani. When he first came to our hospital he was gravely ill from severe malnutrition and tuberculosis. He was so sick that it was as if he had stopped being a kid. He didn’t smile, laugh, talk or play.

"Complications from disease meant he needed to be in the hospital for nearly my entire five month mission in Mali. But the day his smile came back, I knew he was out of the woods.

"By the end of his stay at the hospital he was my little helper, meeting me for rounds and holding my hand as we checked on patients together.

"Right now in Mali, Central African Republic, Syria and many more places around the world there are children whose young lives have been interrupted by crisis. At the worst possible moment in their development, tragedy reached them. But with your help we can reach them, too."

—Dr. Kerstin Hanson, MSF pediatrician


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MSF pediatrician Kerstin Hanson plays with baby at the clinic in eastern Mali. Twenty percent of all the babies born in the world each year—the equivalent of nearly five times the children born yearly in the United States—are not getting the basic vaccines they need to be protected from killer diseases, such as measles. And that’s why Venetia Dearden traveled to West African nation of Mali with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to see firsthand the importance of vaccines to families and the lengths to which they must go to get them. When MSF teams stage vaccination campaigns in the West African nation of Mali, mothers will come from hours away, sometimes days away. In the first year of their life, children must receive vaccines five separate times. In certain parts of the world, it can be extremely difficult for children and their caregivers to come so often if they live far away from a vaccination point or can't afford the cost of transportation. As in many other countries, these women, who are overwhelmingly the stewards of their families when it comes to health issues, want the protection vaccines can provide them and their children against several potentially deadly diseases that plague the region. In the best-case scenario, MSF and other agencies would bring the vaccines to them, wherever they lived, in whatever conditions. But this isn’t possible at present, because many of the vaccines available today are not tailored for the difficult environments in which they must be used. To give but one example: establishing and sustaining cold chain is very difficult in places where electricity is hard to come by, to say nothing of ice. That’s why MSF has been advocating for a global approach to vaccine development and dissemination that takes into account the conditions in the countries where these vaccines are most needed to half preventable deaths, as well as the particular strains of diseases found in various locations.
Venetia Dearden/VII