Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Little Malaria

April 25th is World Malaria Day and, while for some it is a problem of the past, countries all over the world are still affected by it every day. The most vulnerable are children - every 60 seconds brings about the Malaria-related death of child - and though it may be easily prevented and treated, Malaria is one of four major causes of death in Ghana.

Ironically enough, I'd caught Malaria in the med-unit, at our Home Office, underneath a mosquito net (I'd apparently been sharing it with a very smart mosquito). Looking back, I should have recognized the signs: cyclical symptoms, joint pain, a very high fever, but my anti-Malarial medication suppressed the symptoms and I was too excited about coming home. As I shivered violently in my airplane seat and managed the splitting pain behind my eyes, I thought I might have caught a cold from one of the ninety children I hugged goodbye as I left the village behind. It was persistent though, whatever it was, and as that first week went by I started to wonder if something was seriously wrong with me.

In addition to an ebbing fever - peaking at 104 degrees - I'd developed a shortness of breath that left me gasping for air, a sharp, light-sensitive pain behind my eyes, joint and muscle aches from the base of my neck to my knees, and a complete lack of appetite. At one point a friend witnessed my lips turn blue, but I barely noticed as I struggled to keep my head from splitting in half. I was clearly in rough shape. The catalyst came when my mum, leaving me fully-dressed and relatively well for an errand  down the road, returned to find me face down in the basement. I'd fallen asleep face down because it made my head stop hurting; I was fully dressed because it took all of my energy to crawl down there; I crawled down there because it was the only place that seemed cool enough for comfort. My Malaria logic was sound, but it still felt like I was dying.

And it turns out I was. After talking to a medical officer who, listening to me struggle between breath and speech, told me to get to a hospital immediately, I found out that I'd contracted the deadliest type of Malaria (the most common form in West Africa). I'd been living with the parasite for over two weeks and it had done its work patiently.

The treatment was simple enough - we flushed my system with the strongest anti-malarial we could find and I was interviewed by the Center for Disease Control. For about a week I was zombie-like and listless. It was like waking up from the worst hangover I'd ever had, but no one around me understood what it was.

627,000 people died from Malaria in 2012, alone; most of them were children. Many people, if not all, are perfectly capable of preventing Malaria, but lack the education or the motivation to change their behavior. When people are sick in Ghana it's often referred to as 'a little Malaria.' As if Malaria is an innocent, passing infection instead of something that can swiftly carry away a life. Additionally, people get and treat Malaria multiple times, which only leads them to believe that it isn't something to be feared or prevented. Educating them is key.

Many organizations all over the world are taking a stand against Malaria and while Malaria may not  directly affect you, now you know someone's story. The good news is that you can save someone's life today. To learn more about Malaria and how you can help organizations take lifesaving actions, click on the links below. Because Malaria doesn't always have to end in tragedy:

Be sure to check out Stomp Out Malaria at for more Peace Corps stories in the fight to end Malaria.