Malaria: A global issue becomes personal

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Image taken from the National Library of Medicine – via malariamuseum.com

We couldn’t have been asleep for more than a few hours. Waking up in the middle of the night has become a pattern in these last few weeks of pregnancy – each time a reminder that life is growing, coming soon.

This time, there was shaking. It was like an earthquake, and I relaxed until I realized it was husband, not earth, that was shaking. 

A quick prayer and out of bed. I’d never seen it before, so I didn’t know how to describe it as I punched in a quick search on my phone. “Fever, shaking, tremors”

Just as google had nearly convinced me that Ryan’s liver was failing, a quick call to an MD friend advised us to test for malaria.

Malaria – of course. Shaking, fever, headache – he had all of the classic symptoms, but at this particular hour my mind was not thinking straight – or maybe I can blame it on the hormones.

In Malawi and in Kenya, malaria is often assumed as the culprit behind many symptoms. Feeling a headache? Could be malaria. Fever? Definitely malaria. “No,” we often think, “there is no way my headache means I have malaria.”

But we have learned that many of our African friends know how to identify it just as we know how to identify the common cold.

From those we have seen, malaria is often accompanied by weakness in the legs before the onset of fever.

Within the last week, we’ve known of at least three who have tested positive for this big sickness, transmitted by a minuscule carrier.

We’ve heard talk that since many Africans have had malaria several times as a child, when given proper treatment as an adult, they are usually able to bounce back quicker than those of us from other parts of the world. It was certainly true for Ryan.

Thankfully, we had the advice to get tested immediately, the capability to do so at the maternity clinic on the mission, and access to immediate medication. 

During this process, we learned a few additional things about malaria.

Please note, I am not a medical professional and these are things that we have been told by word of mouth – not through any scientific study. 

  • It has an incubation period of one to two weeks before the on-set of fever and shaking
  • Mosquitos can travel up to 10 km, which means it can carry the infection with it the entire way.
  • Once you are on medication, a mosquito cannot transmit the virus from you to another.
  • As much as we try and avoid NSAIDS, tylenol and aspirin interchanged every few hours are a necessity during the worst of the symptoms.
  • It can take three weeks for your body to rebuild your blood cells after medication and treatment.

Malaria is just one of the many concerns of life in Africa. Both foreigners and nationals have to decide how we will approach it. One of the many goals of Community Health Evangelism is to promote preventative care rather than curative. Using bed nets, taking measures to prevent mosquitos from multiplying and covering arms and legs are just a few of the strategies that can be used to prevent it’s spread – things which are shared through facilitated dialogue in several CHE lessons.

Tomorrow is World Malaria Day, and this year it’s personal. While living in Africa requires us to make decisions on how our family will approach malaria prevention, it also reminds us how many do not have immediate access to testing and treatment – a problem that is being addressed by many international and local partnerships, but, like the distance a mosquito can travel, still has a long way to go.

2 thoughts on “Malaria: A global issue becomes personal

  1. So sorry Justine. Hope Ryan is filling better. For what it’s worth, we never know what to do when we go to safari. Take the med, don’t take the med. It’s always up in the air. This makes me feel a bit more like I need to take the threat seriously.
    God bless you guys during this transition in Malawi, Ryan’s sickness and the coming birth. Debbie

  2. Hi Justine, So sorry to hear about the malaria scare. I know Ryan will bounce back. I’ll be praying for you both. Veronica

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