Austin Ihiekwe knows firsthand just how deadly malaria can be. He grew up in Nigeria and watched as his baby brother died from the mosquito-borne disease even though his parents could afford medicine and were diligent in treating their children.
"In the rainy season, all kids had malaria, every month or every other month," said Ihiekwe, 67, of Cottage Grove. "But the availability of medicine is not universal. Some could afford it, some could not." And the medicines didn't always prevent the disease.
From Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, Ihiekwe and members of Christ Episcopal Church in Woodbury are raising money to buy 364 insecticide-treated mosquito nets to be sent to Africa. The 364 nets represent one for each member of the congregation. The effort is part of a larger mission project during Lent involving Episcopal churches statewide and their nearly 20,000 members, said Brian Prior, bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota.
"The lofty goal" is that every Episcopalian will buy a net, Prior said. "This is part of a movement going forward to do a collaborative effort with all of our faith communities, to reach out locally and globally."
Each net costs $12, and all money collected will be forwarded to NetsforLife, a nonprofit that is affiliated with Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation and Episcopal Relief and Development. The money will be used to implement malaria-prevention programs in 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of deaths related to the illness occur. NetsforLife will buy and distribute the nets.
The nets, used by people to keep mosquitoes at bay while they sleep, are aimed at reducing occurrences of the disease. In 2008, there were an estimated 190 million to 311 million cases of malaria worldwide and 708,000 to 1 million deaths, mostly among children. In Africa, a child dies of malaria every 45 seconds, and the disease accounts for 20 percent of all childhood deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
That caught the attention of Episcopalians, who at their statewide convention in October adopted the outreach as their mission project for 2011.
Ihiekwe will talk about his experiences with malaria during a forum at 9:30 a.m. Sunday at Christ Episcopal Church, 7305 Afton Road. Mike McLean of the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District will bring live mosquito larvae to a presentation at 6:30 p.m. March 23. The church will also sponsor a discussion of Sonia Shah's book "The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years" at 7 p.m. April 11 at Axel's at Prestwick, 9555 Wedgewood Drive, Woodbury.
Students who attend Episcopal schools and residents who live in the church's nursing homes also are being encouraged to participate. Others can join the effort by calling the Episcopal Church in Minnesota at 612-871-5311 or going to www.episcopalmission.org and clicking on the pledge link.
Tim Harlow 651-735-1824 Follow Tim on Twitter @timstrib