Our ten years in Tanzania provided many adventures and joys, but almost no one, national or expatriate, can live in East Africa that long and avoid contracting malaria. We averaged about three rounds of malaria each year. The very worst was watching our kids deal with the characteristic fever, vomiting, diarrhea, aching joints, and headaches. The first experience with malaria often brings the fiercest symptoms, and our kids had very high fevers and lost weight rapidly when they were young children. Matthew was only 5 years old when he was first hit with malaria, and hallucinated in both English and the Swahili he was learning while playing with his friends. Matthew recovered, but his friend in the red shirt was not so lucky, and later lost his life to malaria.
Several birthdays were ruined by malaria, and Matthew recalls being a skinny, listless kid trying to celebrate. Joanna was about 4 when she missed the fun of a vacation on Zanzibar and had to lie in the shade on the beach, trying to keep down her malaria pills. We eventually adopted Will, Matthew’s best friend, when they were both young teens, but he almost lost his life to malaria before that, when the rest of us were in the States. Will survived because the local church people looked after him so carefully.
Malaria was a part of normal life in Tanzania, and we accepted it as we did colds and flu, except for times when we suddenly lost friends and our illusion of safety melted away. Now in college, Matthew spent spring semester “back home” in Tanzania, and once again had malaria during a stay in a remote village. Malaria is not yet defeated! But this time, much quicker testing was available, and he received a new medication that is in wide use. Zanzibar, our favorite vacation site, once was a place where we expected to pick up malaria. Now there are very few cases on that island, thanks to a concerted use of nets, spraying, and quick treatment. Our whole family is looking forward to the day when malaria is eradicated. In the mean time, I am delighted to report that Matthew was healthy and strong by June, when all three kids were together to celebrate Joanna’s wedding.
The statistics are coming down, but close to a million people still die from malaria each year, mostly children under 5 and pregnant women. If you would like to join me in the fight to wipe out the parasite that has probably killed half the people who ever lived on earth, visit www.malarianomore.org.
(This blog was submitted to Malaria No More on July 20, 2010)