Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Sheraya Barajas, Josh Stoddard, Brandon Rodman and Jeannie Harmon, all members of Nets for Africa, hold up one of the nets they'll be sending to Africa.

PROVO — Ten bucks can buy a pizza, 2 1/2 gallons of gas or a late-night movie ticket.

Or it could buy a treated mosquito net and possibly save the life of a 5-year-old African child.

"You really can make a difference," said 17-year-old Sheraya Barajas, who works with Nets for Africa, a nonprofit group dedicated to raising money, buying nets and ending malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. "Everyone has ($10) in their pocket."

Nets for Africa was started by Brandon Rodman, a Brigham Young University graduate who said there were no Utah-based groups fighting malaria.

"I'm attracted to Africa for some strange reason," Rodman said. "(And) I want to help kids. This is an easy solution — it prevents it; it doesn't just treat it."

The World Health Organization estimates that 300 million to 500 million cases of malaria develop each year, killing nearly 1 million people. The disease hits hardest in sub-Saharan Africa, killing a child every 30 seconds.

Malaria causes chills, fever, coughing, headaches and muscle-aches, and if not treated can cause seizures, coma and eventually death.

Nets for Africa member Jeannie Harmon got malaria after she lived with an impoverished family in an African slum for a month. She coughed for weeks.

As an athlete, Harmon came back to the states needing chest X-rays and running three to four minutes slower than before. With treatment she recovered, but the memory of her malaria still motivates her.

She now dedicates all the time she can spare to spreading the word about Nets for Africa.

The group has gone door-to-door, created a Web site — www.netsforafrica.org — and wants to organize high-school clubs, all with the goal of eliciting recurring $10 donations that will get treated nets to those who need them.

The group has already raised $12,000, but it says that's still not much because the need is so huge.

"Really the end goal is to have everyone with mosquito nets in Africa," Rodman said. "With all these groups and awareness increasing, I really think that's a reality."

The larger organizations include "Nothing But Nets" and "Malaria No More," which have corporate sponsors and celebrity endorsers.

Commercials during the Olympics about the effort were encouraging, Rodman said. It was the first time he had seen the cause on TV.

"A lot of time your money goes to a cause but you never know the direct effect that that donation had," Rodman said. "Ten dollars covers all the costs associated with a net, treating it, shipping it, distributing it."

The nets will repel mosquitos for three to five years and can cover the sleeping area of one adult, a mother with a baby or two small children.

Sethrina Dunlap, 20, knows exactly how much those nets are needed. She spent a month working in a hospital in Ghana and watched malaria sufferers struggle to come to work — they had no sick days. She saw other people wait seven hours just to get a shot.

"It was the most amazing experience and one of the most depressing experiences," the University of Utah student said. "Once you get to know the people, you don't really have an option for the rest of your life to ignore the knowledge you have."

Dunlap is hoping to someday work for "Doctors Without Borders."

Nets for Africa wants to ensure that many of their nets make it into hospitals and orphanages. Those with highest risks are the young, elderly, pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems.

"It's so inexpensive," Dunlap said of the $10 donation. "A lot of the time, (companies) are asking for larger sums. (But this) really, really affects the lives of African people."

Jamie Wilson, 18, who now attends Utah Valley University, recently worked in an orphanage in Zambia for a month and was able to stay in contact with some of the children.

"But malaria strikes so fast," she said. "It will wipe (children) out."

One month ago, a young friend of Wilson was fine. She has since died after getting malaria.

"It can be prevented so easily," she said.

Nets for Africa isn't just for those who have been to sub-Saharan Africa and seen the suffering firsthand.

"I've never been to Africa," said Josh Stoddard, 26. "I just believe in it so much. I didn't have to see anything."

Stoddard is the seventh child of 11 and said he can't imagine losing family members as often as people do in malaria-stricken Africa.

In a small, donated office in Orem, Rodman works 40 hours a week, unpaid, to get the group up and running. They're still working to find a distributor for their nets, and he's already planning his first trip to Africa.

"As big as this needs to get to solve the problem is as big as we're gonna get," he said confidently.


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