Thursday, May 22, 2008

A touch of malaria

Jaimie might not have malaria. In fact a blood test today said she doesn’t. But the doctor here still thought she might—she has the requisite fever, aches, fatigue and stomach pain—so he gave her four sleeves of pills to combat the deadly parasite possibly spreading though her blood.

When you travel through Africa you’re constantly bumping into the woman whose husband is back at the hotel sick with malaria, or the aid worker who has survived three bouts, or the traveler who stopped taking his preventative pills after leaving the continent only to come down with it when he landed far from the offending mosquito.

Last week in Uganda we went rafting with a group of 14 young Brits working for three months in Malawi and all taking anti-malarial medication. Seven had contracted malaria.

Jaimie and I took a nap yesterday around 6pm and didn’t get out of bed until 7am this morning. I blamed my hibernation on too little sleep and too much Tusker beer. But even after the slumber Jaimie was achy and tired. By the afternoon we were freely quoting the Lonely Planet medical section, which lists many of her symptoms and notes that within 24 hours malaria can cause “jaundice, then reduced consciousness and coma (known as cerebral malaria) followed by death.”

A popular punch line this day was simply to tack on “followed by death” to the end of any sentence.

In the waiting room of the tiny clinic here in little Lamu, Kenya they’ve posted last year’s mortality statistics on a bulletin board, identifying the top five causes of local outpatient deaths. Nearly 3000 children die of malaria in Africa every day so its no surprise that on the chart of children under five malaria tops the list (“#1 malaria, 112 deaths,” “#5 accidents, 12 deaths”). But I was surprised that even among those older than five there were more deaths by malaria than the other four killers combined.

Malaria in Africa is a bit like heart disease in America: the causes and preventions are well-known but few think it will happen to them and many live lifestyles that invite trouble.

But unlike BigMac munching Yanks, many poor Africans can be somewhat excused for neglecting their ounce of prevention. Mosquito nets cost money, though not much.

In recent years aid organizations have handed out nets to some of the hundreds of millions of people who could be saved by them, including a Dutch effort to distribute nets in Lamu. Nets cost just a couple dollars each but they tear awfully easily. Hopefully there’s a better long-term plan for the nets than many of the roads here, which someone paved but no one maintained.

One learns without looking too hard here that band-aids aren’t forever and often the various forms of aid look like different kinds of band-aids. But Jaimie is lying in bed now, in pain and with hope, very happy that the clinic was here to hand out something to stop the bleeding.

1 comment:

Anthony said...

Dang, that sucks for your friend. Hope she gets better.