Malaria Journal
by M. E. D.


Image by M.E.D.I lived and taught in the rural village of Kikuyu, in Kenya, for seven weeks. When I first arrived I thought that my experience would revolve around the education of children. I would never have guessed that one of my unforgettable experiences would be an intimate one with malaria. During my time there, I came across sick men, women, and children suffering mostly from what I would soon discover to be malaria. It is estimated that roughly half a billion people are infected with malaria every year and between 1 and 3 million die. In addition, there are millions who survive that are neurologically and physically scarred from the parasite.

The best barrier against malaria in the third world, besides a vaccine (which has yet to be created) are insecticide impregnated nets. Out of all the homes I visited in Kenya, maybe 1 in 10 homes had mosquito nets. I soon discovered that although there is a global effort to distribute nets to malaria endemic areas, there are many barriers due to inaccessibility to remote areas and the distribution of nets without education—I’ve seen them used for fishing and as garments. Furthermore, they are easily sold as a commodity, which is understandable when a family is trying to make ends meet. Lastly, a cultural barrier exists that makes it difficult to convince a family living a day to day existence to hold on to a net in order to prevent future sickness. The family I was living with certainly did not have nets. Photo by M.E.D.

A few weeks after my arrival, the family I was living with had a beautiful newborn named Ester. As I was about to go to sleep that night, all I could think about was how vulnerable baby Ester was. A person dies from malaria every 30 seconds—most are children under the age of five. She and I were both equally susceptible of being infected with malaria, yet she was far more likely to die if infected. It was an ethical dilemma and I decided to give mine up —I figured that I would get a hold of another one later. And so I lay there that night, as vulnerable as millions of others around the world—without a net or malaria tablets.

Malaria JournalDays passed by. I’d get up early in the morning to travel from school to school to teach, and would get home at night, my vulnerability constantly residing in the back of my mind. I remember waking up one morning and moments after I opened my eyes I could see a mosquito flying around over my head. The magnitude of the risk I was taking hit me pretty hard for the first time. I felt as if over the past few days, I had been playing Russian roulette with life. I remember checking my body for bite marks and feeling reassured because I could not find any. Nearly a week later I woke up with a slight fever, some back pain and an upset stomach. I remember thinking that I really should have boiled the water that I used for a bit longer the previous night. I began my daily routine hoping that I would feel better as the day progressed. Unfortunately I did not. My fever got worse; I had loose stool and my back pain became more intense. I carried on through out the day and as I was walking home that night I was sweating, my bones hurt, and my joints were growing stiff. By the time that I returned home, I was convinced that I had contracted malaria. The family offered me many of the remedies the average Kenyan would have turned to—herbs, tea, and spiritual purification. It is a combination of both a lack of education and money that leads people in the third world to turn to such means. Many don’t understand what malaria is or how it is contracted and most can’t afford the expense of medical treatment. I insisted that I should go to a hospital soon. I remember sitting there in disbelief, I was astonished by how fast it hit me—it must have been 12 hours since I woke. I must have been infected about a week prior. The parasite stealthily multiplied for nearly a week, and its manifestation was utterly explosive–my immune system was failing.

My fever was well over one hundred, my joints were stiff, and my muscles were burning. A local and I embarked on a two hour journey to the closest hospital. It was pitch black and had conveniently started storming. I remember how heavy my feet were getting as the clay clumped to the soles of my shoes, and how badly I wanted to give up because I felt so weak. It was the longest two hour journey of my life. We eventually made it to the hospital, I was admitted, and treated. I had to check in to hospital for a while and, including the medication, my visit cost a whoping 700 Kenyan shillings—equivalent to nearly 9 or 10 dollars. I was shocked, not because I’m a cheap ass but because, the average Kenyan makes about a dollar a day. I had been admitted and treated without question of whether or not I could afford treatment because of the color of my skin. Many are turned away because they cannot afford treatment, while most don’t bother leaving their homes because they do not have the money. I had lived, while thousands had died that same night because I had ten dollars in my pocket. Malaria does not discriminate; we are all equally susceptible to infection. Yet it is a disease that kills the economically disadvantaged, those who do not have access to, or cannot afford treatment –it truly is a plague of the poor.

Needless to say, it is a vicious cycle. Poverty makes one susceptible to malaria, while malaria itself propagates poverty because most who have it are unable to work. I realized that poverty will never be eradicated until we first eradicate disease. In my mind, the solution boils down to one thing: if we wish to eliminate malaria altogether, a vaccine is needed. Don’t get me wrong, billions of dollars have been spent in search of a vaccine and on the study of the parasite. At least 80 different teams around the world are working on some aspect of a vaccination. But until then, we’ll have to do with a combination of residual spraying, impregnated nets, education, and a whole lot of good hearted people who wish to make a difference in this world.