For the majority of Africa’s children, only those who learn to read and write will manage to escape the trenches of poverty. Across the continent, millions of children live on less than a dollar a day, and the only way to ensure a better quality of life is by mastering basic arithmetic, reading and writing; education paves the only way for better-paid jobs. But the power of education does not lie solely in the mastery of numbers and letters. Equally powerful in the fight against global poverty is the role that education plays in helping children to protect themselves against deadly diseases. Education and disease-prevention are intrinsically connected.

According to UNICEF, 1,500 African children die daily from malaria, a lead killer of children in the continent. The disease, both preventable and curable, kills 660,000 people annually, most of them African children. “Malaria is truly a disease of poverty — afflicting primarily the poor who tend to live in malaria-prone rural areas in poorly-constructed dwellings that offer few, if any, barriers against mosquitoes.” Malaria is just one of the deadly diseases that has devastating effects on the population’s children. According to UNICEF, 2.1 million adolescents (ages 10-19) were living with HIV/AIDS in 2012. Without education, children become even more vulnerable and susceptible to death by disease.

UNICEF’s Schools for Africa is one organization that is committed to spreading health information and improving education in Africa for children. According to the organization’s research, every third child in sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t get the chance to go to school. Without this opportunity, a child is at a severe disadvantage when it comes to escaping death. “Simple information on day-to-day hygiene and prevention saves lives and keep families together,” states the organization. Children who attend school have an opportunity to learn basic, life-saving facts about HIV, nutrition, hygiene, health and sanitation, as well as increased access to health check-ups and immunizations. Schools for Africa is working with governments, local authorities and communities in 13 countries in Africa to create safe environments in which children can learn, and has thus far raised $164 million for this cause.

School plays an enormous role in changing the lives of African children—from providing basic education, meals, access to clean water, to incredibly powerful information about health and disease. Children who attend school have an incredible advantage and opportunity to overcome the barriers with which poverty oppresses children. African children need improved access to school, trained educators and life skills programs in order to both survive and pull themselves out of the trenches.

— Elizabeth Nutt

Sources: UNICEF, UNICEF USA, Schools For Africa