Because what would Africa travel be without a case of malaria... sigh.
09.12.2016 - 15.12.2016 32 °C
Travelling through West Africa, I’ve come across a few people severely affected by malaria. Common for them has been continuously vomiting, violent shaking and profuse sweating. In other words, they’ve looked really, really sick. Every time, I’ve really, really hoped that I would be spared the experience of getting malaria… As it turns out, I should have no such luck.
From the beginning of my travels, I’ve decided to skip the anti-malaria drugs. I’ve done so for a number of reasons. Most malaria medicine is expensive, and more so if it’s one pill per day for 365 days. Good malaria medicine would literally cost me almost two months worth of travelling. Add to that that many cheaper anti-malarias have some heavy side-effects and it’s no fun travelling around with depression or a heavy anti-malaria induced fever. Lastly, I’m simply not consistent enough to take the pills on a regular basis. I’ll forget it, skip it, take them at the wrong times, etc. All in all, it’s cheaper, easier and more pleasant to opt-out and then just try my best at avoiding getting bitten too much.
The odds should also be on my side. There are over 3,500 species of mosquitoes, but fewer than forty of those transmit the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria. And during the first eight months, I spent in the ‘malaria zone’ – travelling from Mauritania to Côte d’Ivoire – I’ve had no problems whatsoever. But with 214 million cases of malaria worldwide every year (2015 numbers) causing 438.000 deaths (90 % of which is in Africa), I was clearly pushing my luck.
Having arrived in Côte d’Ivoire, I didn’t feel all that well. But I mostly contributed it to the usual travel aches of foreign bacteria and poor hygiene. Especially, because I usually have an iron stomach and care little about the street food that I shove inside of me. That gotta have some backlashes once in a while. And really, it wasn’t something unusual. I just felt a little under the weather. That all changed when I arrived in Kong, a smallish town in northern Côte d’Ivoire. Because getting a serious disease like malaria somewhere, where there’s proper medical facilities would be no fun at all…
The general feeling of misery had developed into diarrhoea, headache and symptoms associated with the common cold, like a blocked nose. Sure, this could just be from eating shitty food staying a few nights in a place with air condition. But given that I’m not on the pill, I promised myself to visit the sole clinic in town the following morning. When I, later that evening, developed a fever and neck pains (joint pain being a distinct symptom of malaria), I began to feel pretty comfortable that something wasn’t quite right.
That evening was pretty miserable. Alternating between massive sweats and severe chills that night and night was probably the worst I’ve had on the road. However, it wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the local cases I’ve experienced, and I did have enough mental surplus to make a quick quiz on my Facebook page where people could bet on malaria, typhoid fever or simple man flu. I few of my friends even guessed Guinea Worm, and once you’ve googled that, you’ll know why I didn’t particularly appreciate their theories… But honestly, if I have to go, I’d rather do it with a grin on my face and a bow before the curtain closes. So no, I don’t feel bad about making a bit of fun out of (possibly) getting malaria.
Next morning at the clinic, the doctor who saw me was quick to send me to the lab for a couple of blood tests, and – surprise, surprise – they came back about 30 minutes later with a positive result for malaria (which all of six people had guessed correctly on the night before). The cure was surprisingly simple. Two injections followed by three days of taking malaria medicine. Plus an additional two days (five total) of taking medication that would deal with side-effects to the malaria medicine. Three days of taking five pills in the morning and five pills in the evening, followed by two days of taking four pills twice a day. Pretty simple. Everything (tests and drugs) ended up costing me about €18.
The fact that almost half a million people die every year from something that costs less than €20 to cure says a lot about poverty and how easy it really would – and ought to – be to save millions of lives in the developing world.
Myself? I had to go through another feverish night and being pretty drained for both energy and appetite during the three days of treatment. Other than that, I’ve escaped unharmed. Most devastating is that I’m now barred from donating blood for the rest of my life. It’s a hugely important thing to do, and probably the easiest way to save lives. So I hope at least one of my readers, who have not done so earlier, will sign up as a blood donor in my place. Simply because the world doesn’t deserve fewer blood donors, just because I’m stupid enough not to take anti-malaria medicine while travelling through Africa.
Now, since we’re ending on a serious note. My malaria experience was a relative light on. I know of travellers who have been evacuated due to severe cases of malaria and others who have suffered through it badly. Even though they have taken their anti-malarias (even the best drugs only catch 80-95 % of the cases). Common for those travellers is that they have ignored the first symptoms. Malaria tends to get you sick, then you get better for a few days, and then you get really, really sick. If you are ever going to travel in a malaria area, please know the symptoms and as soon as you feel any kind of sick – even if you’re taking anti-malaria drugs – get tested. It’s cheap and surprisingly accessible. There’s no excuse not to!
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