This Mother’s Day, I want to share an idea with you – no Mum should lose a child to a disease that’s preventable and costs less than a Sunday paper to treat. I’m talking about malaria. The disease that claims a life every minute, and that in 2005 took my son Harry from me.
Harry was just 20 when he died of malaria. He had volunteered as a teacher in Ghana and fell in love with the place, so much that his first words on returning were: “I’m going back”. Harry had really found himself and his purpose in Africa. He even sold his phone to pay for furniture for the school where he was working. I was so proud of him.
What I didn’t know was that he had also given away his anti-malarial pills. He seemed so healthy on his return that I assumed he was fine, but 9 days after coming home he started running a temperature, and within two days he was gone.
Richard Curtis’s latest TV film “Mary and Martha” portrays an American and a British mother who share little in common apart from one terrible thing - they both lose their sons to malaria in Africa. My own story helped influence the character of Martha so I watched the film with some trepidation, but I found it to be heart warming. I am honoured to have helped inspire Martha and see a lot of myself in her, and just like Martha I got involved with the fight against malaria after my loss.
I am a Special Ambassador for Malaria No More UK, the charity that works tirelessly to inspire public support and political action to save lives. I supported the charity’s launch in 2009 and went with them back to Ghana to see where Harry had been and then onto No.10 Downing Street to meet the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to talk about UK action on malaria. It was a baptism of fire and I learnt a huge amount. I saw that to make a major breakthrough in the malaria fight, local and global government action is key. I’ve learnt that the UK takes a leading role in fighting malaria, and is only second to the US in funding the fight. I’ve learnt that tremendous progress has been made, but that the Global Fund, whose sole purpose is to fight the world’s major diseases including malaria, is running out of money. I’ve learnt that that cannot be allowed to happen.
With so much progress having been made this millennium in saving lives from this horrible disease, how can we allow it to be undone?
I can't bear the thought that any other mother will wave off her child and have them die of malaria when it's totally preventable. Especially when there are such easy ways to get involved in saving lives. This Mother’s Day I encourage Mums, Dads and families around the world to find out more about malaria and give their voices to supporting the malaria fight - this is one killer disease we really can beat in our lifetimes.
Jo Yirrell’s trip to Ghana with Malaria No More UK, Spring 2009
Jo spent time with children at the orphanage in the village of Brenu where Harry enjoyed four of the happiest months of his life.
Harry Yirrell in Ghana, 2005
Jo met Harry’s girlfriend and shared memories together