“Battles big enough to matter, small enough to win” – hunger and malaria in Maryland and Moheli

Moheli is a small east African island thousands of miles from Maryland and as different as can be politically, economically and culturally. But Moheli and Maryland have something in common that is critically important to children, and also to Share Our Strength. Both have been chosen to demonstrate proof of concept for bold strategies once thought so ambitious as to be unrealistic: Maryland for eradicating childhood hunger, Moheli for eradicating malaria.
Both were chosen for the three same interrelated reasons: (a) they meet author Jonathan Kozol’s criteria of being battles big enough to matter but small enough to win; (b) each has sufficient political will to get the job done; and (c) the caseload and outcomes are manageable enough to actually measure.
Over the weekend MSNBC and other news services carried a Reuters report about malaria being eradicated on the small East African island of Moheli (population 36,000). Moheli is one of the Comoros group of islands at the northern mouth of the Mozambique channel in East Africa. In 2007 a Chinese professor working with a company called Artepharm Global, launched a mass drug administration in which the entire population of 36,000 had to take two courses of anti-malarial drugs to flush the parasites from their bodies. The malaria infection rate dropped from 22% to 2% before disappearing entirely. Now Comoros bars anyone from entering Moheli unless they take a course of the anti- malarial drug, called Artequick.
In 2008 there were more than 243 million cases of malaria worldwide and 863,000 deaths from the disease. So Moheli’s case load or lack thereof is too small to even register as a blip on the global totals. And the procedures used there – such as compulsory administration of the drug, could not be used in many societies. But it did serve as a proving ground for scientists desperate to prove that eradication is a possibility. The Comoros government now hopes to work with China to roll out the program to two of its larger islands with a combined population of 760,000.
Maryland is our Moheli. As became clear when Governor Martin O’Malley spoke about increased summer feeding enrollment at the National Governors Conference in Boston earlier this month, other states will be looking to Maryland’s results to decide how much political capital and financial support to put behind a campaign to end childhood hunger in their states.
Ending childhood hunger in Maryland, like ending malaria in Moheli, is just small first step. But it will send a very large message that the only failure that can stand in our way is failure of imagination.

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