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Excerpt from Chapter 19 - Zambia - Malaria
I come back later, knock on the doctor's door and ask him how it went
'Positive,' he replies smiling
'Ah excellent. All clear then?' I beam back at him
'No, positive. You DO have malaria!'
This was a mild shock to me, to say the least. But the more I considered the evidence the more it made sense. The doctor sent me off for an injection with the nurse. I rolled up my sleeve. She shook her head and smiled, telling me to lie down and roll over. It was going straight in my backside. I was sent away with a bag full of pills and tablets of all shapes and sizes to pump through my body over the next 5 days. I resembled a walking pharmacy.
Every year roughly 2 million people in Africa die from Malaria. That is almost the same as the entire population of Birmingham being wiped out each year. A child dies every 30 seconds. After AIDS, it is the second biggest killer. The disease is spreading because it is becoming resistant to traditional treatments and insecticides used to control its spread.
Especially in Africa, political and social upheaval has led to large numbers of people moving into new areas where disease is spread more easily. Changes to the environment, caused by road-building, mining and irrigation projects, have created a good breeding ground for malaria. Although simple things like bed nets coated in insecticides have reduced malaria by a third according to the World Health Organisation, while filling in ditches also helps.
Most people survive a bout of malaria after a 10-20 day illness, but it is important to spot the symptoms early. The first is high fever, followed a few hours later by chills. Two to four days later, this cycle is repeated. The most serious forms of the disease can affect the kidneys and brain and can cause anaemia, coma and death.
What initially confused me was that I had not noticed being bitten by mosquitoes for a while. This is irrelevant since the purest, cleanest or deadliest bites are usually executed by females and you will not feel a thing. The bumpy bites, which itch like mad are the imperfect bites.
It was not diagnosed as a very severe case, but the parasites had got into my blood. They grow and multiply quickly inside your body. Ninety per cent of all malaria cases are in sub-Saharan Africa where it is the main cause of death and a major threat to child health. The economic impact of the disease is also immense, causing many lost days of work and loss of tourism and investment. Malaria is curable if diagnosed early, which fortunately it was for me.
I actually felt a sense of relief in identifying what was wrong with me as well as being able to do something positive to overcome it. Nothing can destroy your spirit more than fear and uncertainty combined together. As usual a sense of humour would be a valuable asset. Rest and recuperation would be the order of the day now and nothing else. I reflected on the fact that I could well have been one of the first people to raft the mighty Zambezi and microlight over it with malaria.
During the night, with all those drugs working their way through me I couldn't help sweating like…well like a sick white man in Africa. I soak the bed with my sweat, which wasn't too pleasant, but it felt better for having cleansed some of the nasty stuff from inside me. I wandered along the rubble strewn and potholed road into the town of Livingstone, as I needed to attend to a couple of things. Rather appropriately right across the main street you could not avoid looking at a giant blue banner, which was emblazoned with the words, 'RALLY AGAINST MALARIA!'
I couldn't have agreed more. Just walking around was a real effort and a concentration a big problem.
What I was becoming particularly wary of now were the countries coming up which I intended to go through, like Malawi and Tanzania, where malaria is very common and the treatment is not so good. It was too late though. I had already made my mind up to go to Zimbabwe if I was fit enough.
The most rewarding things in life cannot always be experienced from the comfort of an armchair, I decide. Africa should not always come gift-wrapped and neatly bundled, but its appeal would lie in its raw edge.
From Zambia, the journey traversed Zimbabwe, then across into Malawi and around Lake Malawi up into Tanzania.Purchase 'Into India, Out of Africa'