Yesterday evening, I started feeling ill. My throat was dry and my body was aching. Just a little while later, my cheeks suddenly felt very hot and I found my thinking slowing down and I just knew it – I have malaria!
The fear of contracting malaria was the biggest obstacle for me moving here. I had heard about dying children, the importance of profylaxis from travel websites like this and could not make it fit with what my Ghanaian friend talked about as “a cold, nothing worse”. The first time I had malaria, was also the first time I was back in Sweden after almost a year in Ghana. We travelled from a 30 degree celsius tropical night to a bright and crisp winterday of about 10 degrees below zero! I thought it was pretty normal to feel cold! That time, because it took me almost a week to understand my symptoms, I was hospitalized from “severe malaria” and learned about how the parasites multiply exponentially leading to that you can get very ill quickly after you fall sick.
Fast forward five years, I have had malaria a couple of times (for instance in May 2010) surrounded by much less drama – Now I am too thinking of it not much more than of a cold, well the kind you need to take medicin for. However, although malaria is no more a serious problem to me, malaria is a serious problem to Ghana. In 2007, UNICEF estimated that every year 3,5 million Ghanaians get malaria and 20 000 children die from it, that is 25% of deaths in children under 5 years, although newer numbers suggest 33%. Sadly the cost of treatment or distance to a health facility will be the cause of non-treatment. Another interesting – and devastating – aspect of malaria is the hidden costs. UNICEF says:
• A malaria-stricken family spends an average
of over one quarter of its income on malaria
treatment, as well as paying prevention costs
and suffering loss of income.
• Malaria-afflicted families on average can only
harvest 40 per cent of the crops harvested by
• In endemic areas, as much as 60 per cent of
children’s schooling may be impaired as a
result of repeated bouts of malaria.
• Malaria-endemic countries are among the
worlds most impoverished. The cost of malaria
control and treatment slows economic growth
by about 1.3 per cent a year in Africa.
Initiatives such as the (American) president’s malaria initiative are trying to roll back malaria and Ghana has recently had successes in distributing mosquito nets and giving pregnant women precautionary malaria treatments (I took them, myself), but are they enough? When you see open gutters being constructed as I write this (a prime breeding ground for mosquitos) and trash everywhere (another favorite place where mosquitos breed) – it feels like we are going backwards rather than forwards.
And I feel I have to go lie down a little bit.