Today, April 25, 2013 is World Malaria Day. I learned about Malaria in junior high school. Along with Yellow Fever and the Flu of 1918 these were the headline diseases we learned about in Health Class. Later in high school biology and social studies courses, I learned about these diseases again. In college I learned about the evolutionary biology of malaria and sickle cell anemia. Again in junior high school, we spent a lot of time talk about Sickle Cell Anemia and trait. (I attended majority African-American public schools from kindergarten to 12th grade.)
I remember getting tested for the trait and feeling lucky that I didn’t carry it. Now, here I am in Tanzania, doing field research (in the rainy season) swatting away at mosquitos and all other kids of bugs and insects. The risk of malaria here is real. I hear people talk about malaria like we discuss allergies back in the United States.
As much as we tend to identify ourselves as natural or applied scientists or artists or social sciences or economists, the truth is this life we live on this planet is an inter-disciplinary experience. As a kid (and young adult) Malaria was something I learned about. Mosquitos (females) bite you. Their saliva infects you with Plasmodium. This bacteria gets in your blood stream, makes you sick – symptoms resemble the flu – and for the very young, old and immuno-compromised, you could die.
Now, my Sickle cell trait-free genotype isn’t such a sweet thing. When did this revelation occur to me? In 2002 when I visited a part of the world where risk of contracting the disease was likely, Guyana, South America. I took my weekly dose of Larium (Mefloquine Hydrochloride) from one week prior to my departure until the 4 week of my return. My other options include Doxycline – antibiotics. I decided against the latter because it was a daily pill (I’m not good at taking daily pills), didn’t want to risk getting a yeast infection in a place where I had no access to traditional plumbing, and it can cause photosensitivity. I was taking a course in Tropical Biology. Sun was going to be a part of the agenda; an since I can get sun-sick anyway I decided to nix that.
I read the side-effects and heard the stories from people. But most everyone who I had known who took it had only crazy dreams. So I did it – for 9 weeks. Popped those pills and for nearly 2 years after I still had some residual side effects. (I have great stories to tell.)
Here I am in Tanzania, another equatorial region country with Malaria presence and once again I decided to take the Larium. (I decided against the Malarone because it is a daily pill and I am here for a long period of time. The cost would have been insane.) According the UN World Health Organization, malaria prevalence has decreased greatly. Morbidity and mortality have been drastically reduced (75%). Much of this is due Mosquito net campaigns with considerable investments from my home country USA.
I am thankful that malarial prevelance is greatly reduced now. That means the risk of contracting the disease is lower, but I still take my anti-malarials. I actually forgot to take my dosage on time this week. I got right on that last night. I am also very vigilant about using mosquito repellant (yes, DEET is your friend, the higher the percentage the better) and sleeping with my net.
I seek out and destroy mosquitos with a vengeance. Searching them out and killing them. But my regular spraying of my net with 100% DEET usually results in anything lighting on my net and dying.
Although I am barely insured by US standards, I recognize my privilege in this fight. I have access to resources to kill these bugs. I go home to a malaria free region at the end of this stint; and if push comes to shove I can access American/European treatments, i.e. 1st world medical care. I can leverage my privilege and this platform to raise awareness of the many people worldwide who are still affected by malaria and especially here in Africa and Tanzania, my host country.
A child dies every minute from malaria.
Efforts to reduce malaria during the past decade have helped prevent over 1.1 million deaths
There is an annual shortage of US$ 3.6 billion to combat malaria?
~ from The Big Push to End Malaria
I am surrounded by lovely people who don’t necessarily have access to medicines or chemicals to fight this disease. I’m doing my little part to raise awareness about Malaria and raising my voice to Roll Back Malaria.
Won’t you join me in Fighting Malaria? Send an e-postcard to friends to help raise awareness of Malaria deaths in Africa and throughout the world.