When Comic Relief invited me to Uganda for Red Nose Day to meet families affected by malaria, I was worried and scared in equal measures. Worried about how I would cope with hearing from parents who have lost children to this deadly disease, and scared that I too could get bitten by a malaria infected mosquito and fall sick.
I already had an idea of how devastating malaria can be, having recently acted alongside Hilary Swank in Mary and Martha, a film by Richard Curtis which tells the story of two very different women united when their sons die from malaria while in Africa.
Finding strength from each other, these grieving mothers are inspired by their shared loss to begin campaigning to help raise awareness about malaria, a disease that is both preventable and curable yet kills a million people every year, most of them children.
Having made Mary and Martha and watched Red Nose Day films about malaria I thought I was prepared for what I'd see. But the reality of Uganda's malaria epidemic was far worse than I imagined, and all the more heart-breaking because it's so easily remedied.
I visited hospitals and health centres overwhelmed by concerned parents seeking treatment for children desperately ill with malaria. Forced to wait hours in the sweltering midday heat, yet I heard not one complaint because they knew this was the only treatment they would be able to access that could save their child's life.
One such father was Juma, his eyes brimming with tears as he spoke of the previous four days. His seven year old daughter Hajira had fallen sick with malaria. Initially suffering from vomiting, stomach pains and high temperature, Juma had already taken Hajira to three health centres but each time they were told the supplies were not available to treat her.
Eventually traveling over 80 miles to Mbale Hospital, by the time Hajira arrived she was unconscious and in need of lifesaving treatment, including two blood transfusions. Thankfully she survived but her transport and medicine cost more than a month's wages, leaving her family destitute.
I met three year old Alice, who received medicine in the nick of time to save her life. This was Alice's fifth hospital stay for malaria and her mother Louisa - who has already lost two sons to this brutal disease - understood better than most the urgency of getting treatment for her young daughter.
And I heard distressing stories from other mothers, who had experienced the horror of their children dying in their arms while on the way to hospital.
What makes all this even more devastating is how easily these deaths could have been stopped. If people didn't get bitten by infected mosquitos, malaria wouldn't be a problem. A mosquito net is the first step to ending this terrible anguish, a net that costs just £5 protects a mother and child while they sleep.
And when a child has contracted malaria they need immediate medical care or they could die within 48 hours. Just £1.20 can provide a child with access to the vital drugs needed to help them survive long enough to get to a health centre where they can receive lifesaving treatment.
My trip to Uganda was harrowing but I'm glad I went because it gave me the opportunity to bear witness and share the stories of parents and children whose lives are being devastated by this terrible disease. Please don't let their suffering be in vain. By donating money to Red Nose Day you could help Comic Relief provide simple and effective solutions to combat malaria. Please dig deep and help save a child's life.
To find out more about Red Nose Day visit rednoseday.com
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