Monday, March 23, 2009

Malaria - the scourge of West Africa (and the world)

   an engorged Anopheles mosquito

There were few of my Sierra Leonean friends who didn't periodically suffer from bouts of Malaria. The local mosquitos were sneaky quiet, and in those days very few used mosquito netting. It was mainly night time that the mosquitos were out. Mosquitos had lots of places to breed in our area where there was an abundance of stagnant water. Very few people could afford the Sunday to Sunday anti-malarials (we used Aralen phosphate in those days).  Thus my friends were often laid up with fever and chills. This was clearly also true of many of my students. Despite having a bout of Malaria they would show up at school, usually wrapped up in warm clothes, and sleeping at their desks.  They could be very sick.  I had more of an appreciation  for what they all were going through when in March of 1969, after my vigorous trip into the mountains of Sierra Leone (The Loma Mountains) to hike, I arrived home profoundly fatigued. I initially thought I was just tired from the extreme physical nature of my trip. However after two days of this energyless state I began having headache, fever, and chills - I had come down with Malaria - this despite taking the Aralen.  For one week I  was miserably sick - and became dehydrated.  At one point I became very frustrated at my lack of improvement this despite taking the maximal daily amount of medicine. But after a week I was better and headed down to Freetown (a very long trip) to see the Peace Corps doctor there. Blood tests confirmed that I had had malaria. I was never to have a second episode - I was lucky. A second hike in the mountains the following year was certainly as vigorous but after returning I was fine.  

some info:   malaria accounts for almost 40 per cent of all deaths of children under five. It is a shocking statistic, especially considering that malaria is both preventable and curable.But pervasive poverty means that theory and practice are worlds apart in Sierra Leone. Most people know that malaria is spread by mosquitoes but few have the resources to shield themselves from the threat. Far too poor to afford insect repellents or screen their houses with mosquito nets, most families simply accept malaria as a potentially tragic part of everyday life. Decades of war and underdevelopment have also created fertile breeding grounds for the malaria-carrying mosquito – from stagnant water sources in rural villages to sewage-choked canals cutting straight through the poorest parts of the capital.

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