Friday, August 14, 2009

Febrile Chills - Sleepless Nights - Morning brings a lucid, cruel, cruel, reality

"A child dies of malaria every 30 seconds" - WHO

A statistic I have heard before several times - Spread the Net Campaign Advertisements, commercials for one NGO or another, and friends have all shared this chilling fact with me. However, I feel that this fact is a cold statistic. It doesn't carry the weight of the whole story - it's an accountant's attempt at poetry. Honest yet simplistic; this is an important message. But in a culture so far removed from Malaria we hear many stories - how can we understand what it is like to have Malaria, how ubiquitous it is, how many times or how many ways it alters one's life? So here is yet another stab at Malaria, take it for what it's worth.

This figure doesn't just indicate that every thirty second the laughter of one child is suddenly extinguished forever, replaced by the weeping of loved ones and friends. Malaria isn't a quick and tidy death - for children it's a drawn out process lasting days. It indicates that every thirty seconds a young one has succumbed to an illness that has sapped the life from them in a painful, discomforting, and usually completely treatable process. Malaria seems as common in the Ndola region as the flu seems in Canada. People get it, it slows them down for a few days and life goes on. Many people I met keep a supply of treatment on hand and know the early symptoms. If treated early perhaps the brunt of the illness can be mitigated.

Most cases of Malaria are treatable; while there is no vaccine;however, treatment drugs are cheap and readily available. For around ten dollars one can walk into a Chemist / Pharmacy and buy Coartem. But for households where the monthly salary is only three hundred thousand kwacha it is a sacrifice born of necessity to roll out fifty thousand Kwacha for yellow pills. This little yellow package contains enough artemesinin derived medication to treat Malaria in three days. After the first day of medication some symptoms subside, by the end of day two the patient is walking rapidly down the road to recovery, and once the third day's dosage is complete lingering symptoms should vanish in a day's time.

Symptoms of Malaria which may overwhelm the child after infection are varied - nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, body pain, head ache, chills, and fever are some of the symptoms one may encounter one to two weeks after being bitten. These symptoms, as I described in a previous post, are intense. The chills are enough to deny much needed sleep. The fever induces all manners of discomfort. The pains immobilize and cause suffering. The vomit and diarrhea hinder nourishment and cause dehydration.

The infection begins with a simple mosquito bite at night time. Such an event is hardly considered cause for alarm in Canada. As the parasites enter the human body they move to the liver and multiply. Upon re entering the blood stream they destroy red blood cells. Eventually the previously described symptoms are followed by coma, kidney problems, and death. I've heard from many a typically nasty condition known as "black water fever" for the colour of the victim's urine arrives once Malaria has begun to take it's toll on the body.

For me when I felt ill it was a simple trip to the doctor to receive medicine to address the discomfort caused by symptoms and medicine to treat the infection. I'm white, wealthy, and have medical insurance. I've had Malaria three times this summer while trying to avoid infection. I've taken prophylactics. I've used a bug net. I've sprayed my arms countless times with mosquito repellent. I've have Malaria three times. I can't imagine what the symptoms may be like without medicine to lessen their toll, without being healthy and well nourished, with out having a doctor to quickly diagnose and treat.

I cannot imagine what the symptoms would feel like without drugs. At the worst of times the room never stopped spinning due to nausea, my bones felt shattered, and the chills reminded me of Calgary winters with no jacket. These feelings occurred with medication given to me to lessen these symptoms. What would Malaria be like without medication?

Every thirty seconds a child dies after suffering through fevers and intense pain, diarrhea and vomiting, nausea and head pain. All of which is preventable with bug nets and bug spray. All of which is treatable with cheap medicine. If only life were so simple. That's the cruel reality - you'd think something as simple as medication for those who need it could be easily facilitated. Yet these problems still exist.

Like many things I have encountered in Zambia, there is a white get out of jail free card for Malaria. The treatment exists within the walls of so many Chemists and Doctor's Offices. It exists, it's cheap, and it's readily available. So why do such staggering problems still exist? Why can't every human be entitled to such simplistic medicine? Why do children succumb to Malaria after days of suffering from such dire symptoms?

It's not as simple as giving nets to people or producing more drugs. Nets and Drugs are out there. People have to perceive a need for nets. I've heard stories of people using mosquito nets to catch fish. Is it an issue of developing the capability of public health provision? Arguably that's still an issue in most "developed" nations. I’m not an expert in medicine, health care, or anything for that matter. I do feel that having had Malaria three times now and having been easily treated each time that this problem is complex and confusing.

Every thirty seconds a child's struggle with a brutal disease ends with the loss of life.

1 comment:

  1. that is really sad :(
    its true though that pepole may know the statistic you said, but they don't know the sympotms and pain that comes with it all. I really had no idea what malaria really did before, myself.