Local nurse joins international effort to eradicate malaria

August 25, 2009|By JANET HEIM

When she's not serving the community as Health Professions coordinator at Hagerstown Community College, Linda Altizer works with a newly founded nonprofit organization called Nurses for the Nations.

Altizer, who lives in Hagerstown, was one of four N4N advisory board members who recently went on a fact-finding mission trip to Liberia. Through the organization, Altizer, 61, has found a way to put her nursing skills and Christian faith into action.

The group's goal is to eradicate malaria in Liberia. In January 2010, members would like to begin implementing a detailed plan that has received the blessing of the vice president of Liberia, Joseph Boaki, with whom the group met, Altizer said.

"He was very receptive to the plan and offered to help," Altizer said.

She said that while malaria is treatable with medication, it can recur and many African children who contract it face a shortened lifespan.


"Ninety percent of children in Africa under the age of 4 have malaria. Eight million die each year from malaria," Altizer said.

The eradication plan includes major improvements in hygiene and working with the government to eliminate the standing water in ruts in dirt roads that link villages and towns.

The plan calls for the use of medication to treat those with the disease and then prevent recurrences with tools such as mosquito nets for sleeping quarters, teaching the importance of hand washing and building latrines.

The idea is to start with one village and eradicate the disease there in 2010. The chosen village has a population of 440 people.

When that village is free of malaria, the plan is to move to the next village. Altizer said the hope is that success in the first village will lead to increased government support and funding.

Malaria is a blood-to-blood disease, meaning a person must be exposed to the blood of an infected person to contract it, Altizer said.

Parasites that cause malaria typically enter the body through the bite of a mosquito. The disease is common in areas such as Africa, South America and Southern Asia, according to

Mosquitoes thrive due to to the prevalence of standing water, especially during the summer rainy season. Symptoms include severe diarrhea, vomiting and high fevers.

Another factor that has led to the high incidence of malaria is the civil war in Liberia that began in the 1990s and wiped out many health care facilities, Altizer said.

The life expectancy for the 3.5 million people of Liberia is 43 years old for men and 46 years old for women, according to the World Health Organization Web site at

Altizer said members of the N4N group didn't worry about getting malaria because they were taking Malarone, a medication used to treat and prevent malaria.

"We really need to let people in our communities know what's going on over there. ... I know there's something we could do or God wouldn't have led us there," Altizer said.

"They are living in total poverty, living in shacks. Malaria is a disease of poverty; malaria is a cause of poverty," Altizer said.

HIV/AIDS is also a big problem in Africa, but Altizer said many other groups are working on that health issue.

Between now and January 2010, the N4N board will work to raise the needed funding and supplies.

"It gets back to all the blessings we have in this country. I'm hoping people will see the need and reach out," Altizer said.

More information on Nurses for the Nations or ways to donate time or money may be found at

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